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Federal judge tosses education lawsuit against state over disabled student

SANTA FE – State education officials will have one less lawsuit to contend with after a suit representing a disabled student demanding in-person education services was dismissed Friday.

The lawsuit had also represented plaintiffs in rural counties where COVID-19 rates were high and the chance of resuming in-person schooling under state rules is very low.

U.S. District Judge James Browning ordered the Public Education Department to intervene in the case of a 13-year-old girl with special needs in Hobbs in October but did not certify a class-action lawsuit.

Browning closed the case Friday, writing that the parties had agreed to dismiss it. In separate court documents, it was stated that the girls’ educational services were addressed and that part of the case was moot. Lawyers representing her had argued that students with emotional learning challenges needed to be in classrooms with other students, not just online.

Curbing in-person schooling has been at the center of the state’s approach to preventing the spread of the virus and a reduction of illness and death.

Citing a vulnerable population with underlying conditions, high household densities and poor access to health care, New Mexico officials have taken one of the most aggressive approaches to curbing coronavirus spread.

That has included a virtual ban on in-person learning, with some exceptions for kindergarten, elementary and special needs students.

The approach has earned the ire of some parents, school boards and local administrators.

A coalition of school districts is suing the department, saying it overstepped its authority to restrict in-person schooling and staffing decisions during the pandemic.

Last week, an ongoing lawsuit over access to education was expanded, arguing that the state hasn’t used its authority enough. In a motion, lawyers representing the plaintiffs in Martinez-Yazzie demanded that public school students get laptops and internet access.

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