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The father of an Albuquerque Academy student says the state is treating private schools unfairly because they’re required to operate at a lower in-person capacity than public schools.
Douglas Peterson filed a lawsuit in federal court last week against New Mexico Health Secretary Kathy Kunkel and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham over the state public health order that mandates that private schools operate at 25% capacity. The same public health order will allow public schools to operate at 50% capacity after Labor Day.
Peterson is alleging civil rights violations because students in private schools are arbitrarily restricted from getting an in-person education, unlike their public school counterparts. He argues that in-person learning would be more effective for his seventh-grader.
Nora Meyers Sackett, a Governor’s Office spokeswoman, said the 50% capacity provision exists for public schools because the state has oversight over them, and can make sure health and safety precautions are in place.
“The Public Education Department does not have similar oversight of private schools to ensure students’ safety there, which is partly why the emergency public health order stipulates a 25% maximum for those entities,” Sackett said in an email. “No matter public or private, in-person schooling during a pandemic should only take place when every single public health precaution is taken to ensure the well-being of students, families, educators and other school staff.”
Becky Richards, an Albuquerque Academy spokeswoman, said the school would be able to bring back 100% of its student body if it were allowed to operate at 50% capacity due to distancing protocol that has been put in place. She confirmed that the school is currently online only.
Peterson is asking a judge to determine the 25% capacity restriction to be null and void, and to allow private schools to operate at 50% capacity or higher.
“The Governor’s direction that the New Mexico Department of Public Education permit public schools to open for in-person learning at 50% of classroom capacity … and Secretary Kunkel’s restriction allowing private schools to open for in-person learning at only 25% of classroom capacity, treats children whose situations are otherwise indistinguishable differently,” the lawsuit states.
Some private schools, such as Hope Christian School, are holding in-person classes.