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Gov.’s attorney: Private schools are being treated better

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

A lawyer for the Governor’s Office says private schools are actually being treated better than public schools under the state’s public health order, contrary to what a father of an Albuquerque Academy student alleges in a federal lawsuit.

Douglas Peterson filed a lawsuit against Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Department of Health Secretary Kathyleen Kunkel earlier this month alleging that private school students are being treated differently from public school students. Peterson’s daughter, identified as “K.P.” in court documents, is a seventh grader at Albuquerque Academy.

Private schools in the state are authorized to operate at a 25% capacity, whereas public schools can operate at 50% capacity under a public health order addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. Public elementary schools have been given the green light to continue in-person learning, but the state has not made an announcement as to when public middle and high schools can resume in-person classes.

At a hearing in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque on Wednesday, Peterson asked Judge William P. Johnson to order that all schools be treated the same under the public health order. Johnson said he would issue a ruling at a later time.

Matthew Garcia, chief general counsel to Lujan Grisham, said private schools are actually being treated better under the public health order because schools like Albuquerque Academy can resume in-person classes, but most public schools can’t. He also pointed out that Albuquerque Public Schools has decided not to resume in-person learning until January.

“K.P. is getting better treatment than any similarly situated seventh grader in Albuquerque,” Garcia said.

An Albuquerque Academy spokeswoman previously told the Journal that the school is currently online only, but could return its full student body if it was allowed to operate at 50% capacity.

Garcia said the 25% limit is for any enclosed space on campus, so classes can be held in gyms and cafeterias.

In addition to arguing that the 25% limit violates Peterson’s right to send his daughter to a private school, Peterson’s attorney, Deena Buchanan, argued that the restriction violates the private contract between Peterson and Albuquerque Academy. She said the contract, which was signed in March, didn’t mention anything about online learning, and it’s unclear when K.P. will be able to go to school.

“There is no end in sight for any of these restrictions,” Buchanan said.

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