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Judge won’t force NM to send kids back to school

SANTA FE – New Mexico health and school officials can continue to restrict in-person learning for the vast majority of young children based on countywide coronavirus outbreaks after a federal judge denied a sweeping request for an injunction on behalf of school leaders and children from 10 New Mexico counties, mostly Republican strongholds.

In a 167-page decision, U.S. District Judge James Browning wrote that plaintiffs likely can’t sue the governor and that the regulations ordered by the state are likely to be upheld.

On Sept. 8, the state gave most school districts the option to reopen, as long as they were located in counties with low rates of COVID-19 infections.

Parents in counties forced to remain closed were livid, including the mother of a 13-year-old girl with special needs in Hobbs.

Browning did grant one narrow injunction on her behalf, ordering state Public Education Department Secretary Ryan Stewart to tell her school to rethink her online-only learning plan. Her mother, Shannon Woodworth, joined the lawsuit alleging a violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

“In spite of the ongoing pandemic, Secretary Stewart must provide Woodworth’s daughter with a ‘free and appropriate public education’ as the IDEA requires,” Browning wrote in the order. “This might include in-person instruction provided in small groups, with appropriate precautions including social distancing.”

Browning’s order was only for that student, and he wrote that it was unlikely that her lawsuit could spearhead a class-action suit on behalf of other students with special needs.

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