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TUES: Document Hints At Solving New Mexico Education Inadequacies, + More

Hannah Colton
Masihullah Naseri, who's learning English, waits to cross the street on his way to summer school in Albuquerque's International District in November, 2019.


Document Hints At Solving New Mexico Education Inadequacies - By Cedar Attanasio Associated Press / Report For America

New Mexico education officials this month touted a plan to address an ongoing lawsuit over educational opportunities for Indigenous and low-income students as an accomplishment of the outgoing Education Secretary.

But a draft of the document obtained by The Associated Press shows that it offers few specifics for fixing systemic inequities in the state's public school system.

The 100-page document outlines strategies to resolve a 2018 state court ruling that found New Mexico failed to provide "adequate" education for most students required under the state's constitution.

In most cases, the draft reiterates the general goals of the state's Public Education Department without laying out specific plans to solve problems identified in the ruling.

It prioritizes increasing access to high-speed internet, but does not suggest providing high-speed internet to all students or to all students unable to attend school in-person, which District Court Judge Matthew Wilson ordered this year.

The draft was presented to a summit of tribal leaders when they met last week with state government officials. 

The education department plans to release a full version of the proposal by Dec. 1, after getting additional feedback, the document states. That leaves about four weeks for the public to comment before legislation starts to be filed next year.

The final draft will likely drive policy discussions ahead of the 2022 legislative session where lawmakers will hash out the state's education budget.

"The timing is driven by the need for giving the public time to weigh in before the (legislative) session," said Public Education Department spokeswoman Carolyn Graham.

State Rep. Derrick Lente, a Democrat who sponsors much of the state House legislation supporting Indigenous issues, and other prominent Native American education advocates complained that they had not been given a copy of the document by state education officials. 

Lente says feast days and other religious holidays in December will limit the public's ability to participate.

He said they should release the document sooner so there is time for people to have input.

"It's insulting to think that they expect the public who yes, education is absolutely a priority, but during the holiday season, to take time out of, out of their life, and out of their holiday," Lente said, "on something like this that they've had all year to do."

The draft focuses on what needs to be done to address the lawsuit, but not necessarily who will do it or how. 

The 2018 ruling found the state offers second-rate education to marginalized groups, and hasn't hired enough qualified teachers who can serve Indigenous students, English language learners or disabled children. It also found children in poverty were not receiving an adequate education. 

The education department policy draft sets the goals of increasing teacher training and recruitment, driving down dropout rates and absenteeism, and increasing funding for ways to support students outside of class, from counseling to at-home internet and computers.

One of the few specific recommendations in the report cites the need to increase pay for teachers who obtain Spanish bilingual certifications or Native American language and cultural certificates, as well as technical support and training for schools for absenteeism interventions. Boosting pay for those hard to fill positions would attract more candidates, the draft said.

While follow-up rulings from state court judge Wilson has set a specific standard for high-speed internet and required students to have access, the draft does not. 

Former Public Education Department Secretary Ryan Stewart has said that the state follows a federal standard that sets minimum upload and download speeds. The judge issued a higher standard, based on outcomes, saying that all students should be able to participate in a two-way video chat with their teacher.

Wilson also ordered the education department to identify which students lack essential technology. The department has not released the data. 

Education officials said more detailed recommendation items will be included in the version released to the public.

The state education department "is developing 90-day action plans that will include specific measurable actions as well as identifying the people responsible for those actions, the timelines, and the metrics for success," Graham said.

The education department stressed that the draft is not the first effort taken at resolving the lawsuit.

Since the 2018 ruling, New Mexico changed the state education funding formula so that schools serving Indigenous areas would keep millions in federal funds instead of having it subtracted from their state funding. In response to the pandemic, the education department has funded the purchase of laptops for students stuck at home and paid for temporary internet access.

The lawsuit named Martinez-Yazzie for the Hispanic and Indigenous families who joined the lawsuit in 2014 during Republican Gov. Susana Martinez's administration. Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham tried unsuccessfully to dismiss the lawsuit last year.

Lawyers representing the plaintiffs have estimated in the past that the case covers about 80% of New Mexico's K-12 students. They include Native American students, English Language learners, students with disabilities, and low-income students.

Because the closure of in-person schooling during the pandemic disproportionately impacted those types of students, it's unlikely that the lawsuit will be dismissed any time soon.

Suit Challenges New Mexico Orders On COVID-19 Vaccinations - Associated Press 

A lawsuit filed on behalf of a New Mexico nurse and an agricultural worker challenges the constitutionality of recent public health orders requiring people with certain jobs to get COVID-19 vaccinations and restricting admittance to the state fair. 

The lawsuit filed Thursday in federal court asks a judge to block enforcement of an order requiring health workers, teachers and certain other workers to get vaccinated. A separate order that the suit seeks to block requires anyone attending the New Mexico State Fair to be fully vaccinated.

The suit, which was filed against Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and acting Health Secretary David Scrase, calls Lujan Grisham a "tyrannical governor willing to punish children and destroy livelihoods."

Lujan Grisham spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett told the Santa Fe New Mexican that the administration does not comment on pending litigation but that state actions to protect the public's health and safety have been repeatedly upheld by courts.

Attorney A. Blair Dunn filed the suit on behalf of Jennifer Blackford, a registered nurse at Presbyterian Hospital in Albuquerque, and Union County Extension Agent Talisha Valdez,

Recommendations Target US Oil, Gas Leasing Across The West - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

An Indigenous leader from New Mexico and former U.S. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt called on the federal government Tuesday to overhaul its oil and gas leasing program to ensure the protection of cultural resources, saying for far too long tribal expertise has been ignored to the detriment of sacred landscapes.

Acoma Pueblo Gov. Brian Vallo and Babbitt highlighted recommendations outlined in a new report that looks at the government's leasing policies and how they have been implemented across the West over several decades. It seeks ways to better protect areas including Utah's Bears Ears National Monument and Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico.

The recommendations are centered on how land managers can incorporate tribal expertise into decision-making to better understand what resources could be at risk before permitting and development begins. They also call for the Bureau of Land Management to take a lead role in determining which areas can be developed rather than industry nominated parcels for drilling.

Vallo and others expressed optimism Tuesday that an ongoing review of federal leasing policies by President Joe Biden's administration will come to some of the same conclusions and that changes could be on the horizon. 

The Democratic administration recently resumed leasing after a federal judge blocked its suspension of new oil and gas leases on federal land. More than a dozen states had argued that the administration bypassed comment periods and other bureaucratic steps required before such delays can be undertaken and the moratorium would cost the states money and jobs.

The Biden administration is appealing the ruling and has emphasized that the pause was needed to begin addressing worries about climate change.

The battle over drilling in the West has spanned multiple presidential administrations, with federal officials long reluctant to overhaul what has been a significant sector of the U.S. economy. 

Paul Reed, an archaeologist and Chaco scholar who prepared the report, said the current approach prioritizes development over preservation and that the federal government has failed to consult with tribes.

Vallo echoed those concerns. Even though tribal consultation occurs, he said federal policies and processes are not necessarily designed to incorporate the recommendations of Indigenous communities. 

"Until we have some equity here and until we see that our voice and our recommendations and our knowledge is considered in decision-making, we will not have achieved the government-to-government or nation-to-nation relationship that we should all be working towards," Vallo said.

Gorilla At Albuquerque Zoo Euthanized Because Of Infection - Associated Press

Albuquerque's municipal zoo says a 48-year-old female gorilla has died after being stricken by a bacterial infection.

ABQ BioPark Zoo officials say Huerfanita was euthanized Saturday once it became clear she wasn't going to recover from a digestive tract infection after being treated with medications.

The 48-year-old western lowland gorilla had the same type of infection that killed a male siamang, a type of gibbon, at the zoo earlier this month.

The infection was first discovered at the zoo in early August in a male gorilla.

After the first death, zoo personnel removed gorillas, orangutans and siamangs from public display areas to be treated and monitored in private indoor spaces.

Zoo Director Stephanie Stowell said Huerfanita was beloved at the zoo and that staff were devastated by her death.


US Boarding School Review Prompts Calls For Trauma Support – Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Some members of Congress want to ensure that protections are put in place to address ongoing trauma as more information comes to light about the troubled history of Indigenous boarding schools in the United States.

A group of 21 Democratic lawmakers representing states stretching from the Southwest to the East Coast sent a letter last week to the Indian Health Service. They are asking that the federal agency make available culturally appropriate support services such as a hotline and other mental and spiritual programs as the federal government embarks on its investigation into the schools.

Agency officials said in a statement Monday they are reviewing the request and discussing what steps to take next.

Advocacy groups say additional trauma resources for Indigenous communities are more urgent than ever.

“The first step we need to take is caring for our boarding school survivors,” said Deborah Parker, a citizen of the Tulalip Tribes and director of policy and advocacy at the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition.

U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland has acknowledged the process will be painful. She and many others have talked about the federal government’s attempt to wipe out tribal identity, language and culture through its boarding school policies and how that past has continued to manifest itself through long-standing trauma, cycles of violence and abuse, premature deaths, mental health issues and substance abuse.

Part of the Interior Department's work includes identifying potential burial sites at former schools and documenting the names and tribal affiliations of the students buried there. The agency has promised to work with with tribes on how best to protect the sites and respect families and communities.

The lawmakers in their letter described the boarding school era as a “stain in America's history.” They wrote that revisiting that history undoubtedly will be traumatic for survivors and their communities.

“We are confident that IHS is equipped to consider ways to prevent inflicting or worsening existing intergenerational trauma,” the letter reads.

The Indian Health Service noted Monday that Native American youth are 2.5 times more likely to experience trauma compared to their non-Native peers and that the agency aims to provide a "safe, supportive, welcoming, non-punitive, respectful, healthy and healing environment for all patients and staff.”

Still, it will take work to ensure services are widely available, as criticism of the Indian Health Service and chronic funding inadequacies have spanned decades and numerous presidential administrations. The pandemic exacerbated health care disparities seen in many Indigenous communities.

Under the Biden administration's latest spending proposal, the agency would see a 36% increase in its annual budget for the next fiscal year. That would mark the largest single-year funding increase for the agency in decades, officials have said. About $420 million in pandemic relief funds also will be aimed at expanding mental health and substance abuse prevention and treatment services at IHS and tribal health programs.

Beginning in the early 1800s, the effort to assimilate Indigenous youth into white society by removing them from their homes and shipping them off to boarding schools spanned more than a century. According to the boarding school healing coalition, hundreds of thousands of Native American children passed through boarding schools in the U.S. between 1869 and the 1960s.

While research and family accounts confirm there were children who never made it home, a full accounting of deaths at the schools has never been done.

Some tribes and others have embarked on their own investigations.

In the coming months, researchers are planning to use ground-penetrating radar at the site of a former boarding school in Utah where tribal leaders say there may be unmarked graves. Corrina Bow, chairwoman for the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, said boarding school officials would take children as young as 6 years old and force them to work at a farm on the property.

Legislators Grapple With New Virus Exposure In Committees – Associated Press

The state Legislature won't revert to remote, online proceedings despite close encounters with the resurgent coronavirus and at least one new infection among lawmakers.

Leading state lawmakers on Monday weighed whether it was still prudent for legislative committees to hold in-person hearings across the state in the waning days of summer and early autumn. Current rules exclude participation by legislators by videoconference.

Members of a health policy committee were compelled to quarantine after coming into close contact with a coronavirus-exposed presenter at a public hearing in Las Vegas, and at least one legislator is grappling with infection.

Democratic state Rep. Liz Thomson of Albuquerque said legislators are missing committee meetings because of exposure to the virus at some prior committee meeting.

“I think we really need to think about having virtual participation for members because we are going to have folks quarantine,” said Democratic state Rep. Liz Thomson of Albuquerque. “We’re going to have people test positive. We already do.”

But top legislators including Democratic House speaker Brian Egolf of Santa Fe held fast to current coronavirus-safety provisions, highlighting the importance of meeting face-to-face with constituents and experts in far-flung reaches of the state. New Mexico requires face masks in most indoor public venues when not eating.

Those provisions allow only in-person participation by legislators at committee meetings in the lead-up to legislative sessions in December and January. At the same time, committee leaders can switch from a cramped or ill-equipped meeting venue where airborne virus can propagate to large hearing rooms in the Capitol building in Santa Fe as a safety precaution.

The January-March 2020 legislative session allowed legislators in some instances to participate in deliberations and votes via videoconference from isolated rooms in the state Capitol and even at home. At the time, the state Capitol building was off limits to the general public and lobbyists.

Pot Grower Gears Up For Recreational Market In New Mexico – Associated Press

Cannabis provider Ultra Health says it has completed the purchase of a former bakery and adjacent land in southern New Mexico that will open the way for a large-scale marijuana growing and manufacturing campus.

The property purchase in Alamogordo takes place as New Mexico prepares for the start of recreational marijuana sales by April 1, 2022. Regulators are putting the finishing touches on the licensing process for an array of marijuana businesses.

On Monday, Ultra Health Chief Marketing Officer Marissa Novel said the property deal at Alamogordo was nearly two years in the making.

Ultra Health plans to grow cannabis both indoors and outside at the new facility, with space to trim, dry and cure the onsite crop and offer services to other growers, she said. The property includes production facilities spanning 5 acres.

“It's envisioned to be this campus where you can see a variety of cannabis activities take place in a very collaborative environment,” Novel said.

Ultra Health — headquartered in Bernalillo and Scottsdale, Arizona — also announced intentions to apply for a license with federal government to conduct research on cannabis cultivation.

The investment highlights the financial stakes in a new statewide marketplace for recreational marijuana.

More than 100,000 residents already are enrolled in the state's existing medical marijuana program for people with qualifying conditions such as cancer, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress.

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed legislation in April to allow possession of up to 2 ounces of weed and levy taxes on sales of recreational marijuana.

US Authorities Warn Against Flying Drones Over National Lab – Associated Press

Drone pilots beware.

Authorities at one of the nation’s top nuclear weapons laboratories issued a warning Monday that airspace over Los Alamos National Laboratory is off limits.

The birthplace of the atomic bomb, Los Alamos lab reported that recent unauthorized drone flights have been detected in restricted airspace in the area.

Officials said if you fly a drone over the lab, you likely will lose it.

“We can detect and track a UAS (unmanned aircraft system), and if it poses a threat, we have the ability to disrupt control of the system, seize or exercise control, confiscate or use reasonable force to disable, damage or destroy the UAS,” said Unica Viramontes, senior director of lab security.

The lab would not release any specifics about how the system works, citing security protocols. They also would not say how many unauthorized flights have occurred in recent months.

Lab officials also warned of the potential for "collateral interceptions" of normal commercial or hobbyist drone flights, saying pilots should stay well outside the lab's restricted airspace and the additional no-drone zone designated by the Federal Aviation Administration.

According to the FAA, drones are prohibited from flying over sites designated as national security sensitive facilities. Aside from military bases and other Department of Defense sites, restrictions are in place for national landmarks and certain critical infrastructure such as nuclear power plants.

Santa Fe Police Say Fire That Burned Sculpture Was Arson – Associated Press

Authorities in Santa Fe are searching for a suspect who set fire to a sculpture over the weekend.

Fire officials say someone deliberately committed arson against a 21-foot tall sculpture late Saturday night outside of the Form & Concept gallery downtown.

It took firefighters 20 minutes to extinguish the fire.

Police Chief Andrew Padilla told the Santa Fe New Mexican investigators are reviewing surveillance footage in hopes of identifying a suspect.

The newspaper says a photo from a bystander showed a red gas can by the destroyed sculpture.

The gallery said in a statement the sculpture, titled “The Solacii,” was created by Tigre Mashaal-Lively. It was made with steel frame pipes, fiberglass and fabric.

The gallery owners described it as a “queer and Afrofuturist” work. They said the fire was an “undeniable act of violence” against an artist of color.