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Teachers union lawsuit against PED delayed

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A union lawsuit alleging that the state’s teacher evaluation system is unfair and inaccurate will not go to trial in October as scheduled.

First Judicial District Court Judge David Thomson granted the New Mexico Public Education Department’s request for a delay this week. The nonjury trial will be rescheduled.

The American Federation of Teachers New Mexico, a plaintiff in the case, blamed PED for slowing down the process and failing to turn over critical information and data.

PED, in turn, accused the union attorneys of failing to adequately disclose their expert witnesses, abruptly canceling a deputy cabinet secretary’s deposition and asking for a two-month extension to provide the PED with their written discovery.

“By spreading false information, they’re attempting to misdirect the public from the issues they have themselves created – even when there’s an opportunity to build bridges they find a way to burn them,” said PED spokeswoman Lida Alikhani in an emailed statement. “The fact is that both parties agreed and signed a stipulated motion to continue the trial date to a later time because all attorneys involved are still engaged in ongoing trial preparations.”

Changes within PED could also impact the case.

Education Secretary Hanna Skandera stepped down on June 20, and the evaluation system was revamped in the spring.

PED announced that standardized test results would be reduced from half of the evaluation to 35 percent. Classroom observations were increased to 40 percent – the single largest factor.

PED Deputy Cabinet Secretary Matt Montaño also recently testified that he would recommend a policy that explicitly gives districts the power to decide if low-performing teachers are placed on performance improvement plans.

On Friday, the teachers union claimed that PED made “arbitrary” changes to the evaluations and changed its leadership, “notably Former Secretary Skandera,” to delay the lawsuit and salvage the “irreparably flawed evaluation system.”

“We will continue to hold the PED accountable for the numerous educators they have forced out of our profession and the generation of students they have harmed through their irresponsible and cruel policies,” American Federation of Teachers President New Mexico President Stephanie Ly and Albuquerque Teachers Federation President Ellen Bernstein said in a joint statement.

The evaluation system remains under an injunction Thomson granted in December 2015, which prevents “consequential actions” based on the evaluations. Under the terms of the injunction, PED cannot use the evaluations to make employment, advancement and licensure decisions.

The evaluation system has been controversial since it was imposed in 2012 by administrative rule.

A recent Brown University study found that New Mexico rated nearly 29 percent of teachers below effective in the 2015-2016 school year, while most states placed fewer than 4 percent of teachers in that category.