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PED must defend new plan

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A New Mexico district judge on Wednesday gave the state Public Education Department 15 days to respond to claims that its new teacher evaluation system violates the law.

Those claims came in the form of a petition filed this month by a cadre of state legislators, teachers unions and an individual teacher.

State District Judge Shannon Bacon also on Wednesday set a Nov. 20 court date on the issue.

If PED Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera, fails to respond within 15 days, “the judge will grant the relief asked for in the petition, which is the cease-and-desist order, and order the PED to follow the School Personnel Act” and the established teacher evaluation system, said Stephanie Ly, president of the American Federation of Teachers, New Mexico.

Larry Behrens, public information officer for the PED, said the teacher unions are trying to “spin” the judge’s action as some type of legal victory.

“The judge has simply asked for a response in this matter. We will present the facts of the case just like the last time this issue was decided in our favor,” Behrens said. “We look forward to the day when we can devote more energy into supporting our students and teachers and less into fighting frivolous efforts to delay.”

Skandera launched the system this school year under an administrative rule after legislators twice rejected the plan. The state and Albuquerque chapters of the American Federation of Teachers last year asked the state Supreme Court to strike down the system on separation-of-powers grounds, but the court denied their petition without explanation.

Shane Youtz, the attorney representing the plaintiffs, said the new petition is more narrow and is in a different venue.

It contends that under existing state law, teacher evaluations must be “uniform statewide.” The PED system violates that by allowing charter schools to apply for an evaluation waiver, something not allowed for traditional schools, Ly said.

Youtz said the other part of the rule that appears to conflict with state law is the portion that allows personnel other than school principals and assistant principals to perform classroom observations. State law requires that “the school principal shall observe each teacher’s classroom practice.”

Ellen Bernstein, president of the Albuquerque Teachers Federation, said teachers are neither afraid of accountability nor of having a rigorous evaluation system, she said; rather, they believe that the PED’s system “won’t legitimately evaluate their ability.”

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