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PEC ‘request’ feels like threat to charter school

The Public Education Commission decided at its most recent meeting to “request” that a local charter school remove from its website a link to a published news story that refers to an expansion of the school currently being argued in court.

The request was directed at the Albuquerque Institute for Mathematics and Science charter school, and director Kathy Sandoval said it feels like intimidation.

“That’s a public article,” she said. “I guarantee they (the commission) did not go and scrutinize every charter school website. I’m getting special attention.”

The school’s charter is up before the PEC – which oversees charters – for a mandatory five-year renewal in December and Sandoval said she fears retaliation if she does not comply.

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Still, she said she has no intention of removing the link and intends to post additional links to other news stories.

Commission chairwoman Carolyn Shearman did not return calls or reply to an email from the Journal.

Earlier this year, AIMS made plans to expand to the UNM West campus in Rio Rancho but the plan was opposed by some leaders there, including Rio Rancho Public Schools superintendent Sue Cleveland. She argued the school could not expand outside its home district – Albuquerque Public Schools – without a new charter, which would require notifying RRPS.

AIMS said because it was chartered by the state and not APS it was not bound by that rule and only needed permission from the PEC. In the news article, Sandoval is quoted as saying the PEC had given the school approval to expand.

RRPS filed a lawsuit in June so the courts could clarify the issue.

According to minutes from the Oct. 17 meeting, commission attorney Josh Granata, told the members about the link. Granata took issue with Sandoval’s assertion in the published news article that the PEC had approved the school’s expansion into Rio Rancho, saying that was not the case.

“So what I would request is that the commissioners vote to essentially formally ask AIMS to take this off their website considering this case is being litigated,” he said.

Commissioner Vince Bergman questioned whether the PEC had authority to make the request.

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“I’m just curious if we can ask another entity to remove a document that’s essentially a public document from their website,” he said.

Commissioner J. Tyson Parker said he agreed with Bergman’s assessment but the commission ultimately voted 8-1 to “formally request” the school remove the news article from its website. Parker cast the only vote against.

AIMS attorney Daniel Ivey-Soto said the PEC has overstepped its boundaries.

“The last time I read the state statutes,” he said. “Website police was not listed among their authorized power.”

Commissioner Carmie Lynn Toulouse added during the meeting that the PEC was not “demanding” or “threatening legal action” but instead making a “simple request.”

Ivey-Soto said he doesn’t see things that way.

“Sure they say they are only asking,” he said. “But who’s asking? The regulatory agency that authorizes the very existence of the school. There is an inherent threat in any ‘request’ made by this authorizing agent.”

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