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Lawsuit Alleges Violation Of Students’ Rights

Lawsuit Alleges Violation Of Students’ Rights

Historical Trial In Santa Fe

A landmark consolidated lawsuit began June 12 which alleges that New Mexico has violated and is violating the state constitutional rights of economically disadvantaged students. The state-court trial is expected to last nine weeks.

The combined cases, Martinez v. State of New Mexico and Yazzie v. State of New Mexico, ask the court to declare New Mexico’s education system unconstitutional as it applies to economically disadvantaged students, English-language learners, Native Americans, and students with disabilities. The state constitution mandates a “sufficient” and “uniform” education for all students in New Mexico, yet a majority of its students are unable to read, write, or do math at grade level.

During the trial, attorneys from the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) will ask Judge Sarah Singleton to find that the State of New Mexico has failed to meet its constitutional obligation to all school age children, and that the New Mexico system of education is unconstitutional as it applies to Native American students.

“For far too long, New Mexico has left its most vulnerable students behind, disregarding its constitutional duty to fully support their education for all students,” said Marisa Bono, MALDEF Southwest regional counsel. “Every New Mexico child should have the opportunity to graduate ready to pursue their dreams and meet their full potential — this lawsuit will ensure that opportunity.”

MALDEF filed Martinez in April 2014 on behalf of dozens of parents and public schools in Española, Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Zuni, Magdalena, Las Cruces and Gadsden. The suit alleges that New Mexico’s arbitrary and inadequate funding for English-language learners and economically disadvantaged students, the lack of quality pre-kindergarten programs, and other problems violate the New Mexico Constitution.

Attorneys for the state sought to dismiss MALDEF’s lawsuit. In October 2014, a state court denied that request and ruled for the first time in New Mexico’s history that education is a fundamental right under the state constitution.

The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty filed Yazzie v. State of New Mexico in 2014 on behalf of families and school districts. The court ordered the Yazzie lawsuit to be consolidated into the Martinez lawsuit for trial in 2015.

You can read the complaint here as well as the court’s 2014 ruling and a timeline of significant dates in the case, a fact sheet and a selection of news clips. Visit NM Poverty Law for more information on the Yazzie lawsuit, including plaintiff profiles.

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Dennis Domrzalski is managing editor of ABQ Free Press. Reach him at dennis@freeabq.com.

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