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School leaders outline crisis to New Mexico lawmakers

October 1, 2020 GMT

SANTA FE, N.M (AP) — School leaders on Thursday outlined dire setbacks for New Mexico to meet its obligation under a court order to provide an adequate education for all students.

Panelists told members of the Legislative Finance Committee that the coronavirus pandemic has set schools back in all areas, including meeting requirements to improve instruction for at-risk students.

The education lawsuit covers New Mexico students who are English language learners, Native American and those who have specific mobility or learning impediments.

Staffing and budgets are strained as retirements and costs have increased, said Stan Rounds, executive director for the New Mexico School Superintendents Association.

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He said student enrollment is down and that there are indications that self-harm among students is on the rise.

The challenges extend to rural communities in the corners of the state, where limited internet access is compounding unequal access to education.

“My opinion is that those rural communities, frontier communities are not having the opportunity for broadband Internet services were failing those kids,” said Rep. Rudy Martinez, who represents rural counties along New Mexico’s border with the Mexican state of Chihuahua. “If you travel from Antelope Wells to Columbus, you’re on your own, buddy, because there’s absolutely no services out there.”

While schools have mobilized to bring Wi-Fi hotspots to rural homes, connections are spotty or non-existent in areas without the cell towers needed to power the hot spots.

Around half of Native American children have been unable to connect with online learning this year, according to a report to the Legislative Finance Committee. Superintendents and Board of Education members in two of the districts with the largest Native American populations told The Associated Press last month that as many as 60% of their students still can’t connect to online classes.

In July, state District District Judge Matthew Wilson rejected a request from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to dismiss the case, saying the state hadn’t complied with a 2018 ruling to provide “adequate” education as required by the state constitution.

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Attanasio is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues. Follow Attanasio on Twitter.