New Mexico is Facing a Lawsuit Over Internet Learning During the Pandemic

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New Mexico is Facing a Lawsuit Over Internet Learning During the Pandemic
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In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, state governments across the country have been scrambling to develop a new method of educating students while preventing the spread of the disease by close in-person schooling. While a hybrid model of in-person and online learning had been discussed in New Mexico and elsewhere, it was determined to be largely impractical. Rural, low-income, and Native American students living on tribal land are considered to be particularly at risk of falling behind in school due to the challenges they would face with hybrid learning and are already dealing with in regard to 100% remote learning.

Access to working technology and internet access has presented a significant hurdle to remote learning.

Technology was already an increasingly important part of modern academic curriculums, but with the pandemic, access to technology has become absolutely essential. Vulnerable populations of students such as those mentioned above exist across the country, and they face particular obstacles to a successful online learning experience. Not only does lack of access to laptops present a challenge, but lack of adequate internet access has contributed to the problems these students are facing. When a student is unable to participate in or even listen to their teacher via video conference with the other students, they miss out on important information they need to complete the class.

State and local governments have been purchasing tens of thousands of laptops and working to install Wi-Fi, but it’s not happening fast enough.

For students who did not already own a laptop or have home-access to the internet, New Mexico has declared its intentions to provide them with such necessities. However, as the pandemic nears its first birthday, low-income and tribal students still do not have access to the resources they need for a successful education. Preston Sanchez with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty points out that attempts made by the New Mexico Public Education Department to correct the problem are only temporary fixes, putting a band-aid on a much bigger problem.

Families of New Mexico students have filed a lawsuit against the State of New Mexico over the right to an adequate education.

The right to an adequate education is protected in the state’s constitution and applies to students of every background and economic status. In 2018, a judge ruled that the state’s education system was in violation of this constitutional right, and in early 2020, a request for the dismissal of this lawsuit was denied on the grounds that the state had yet to comply with the court order to correct the education system. According to the complaint, thousands of children are still offline nearing the end of the semester, and even more have limited internet capacity. Many rely on cell phone hotspots that can run out of data or unusable when a parent takes their phone to work for the day.

The results of this lawsuit may signal a way forward both for the vulnerable population of New Mexico students as well as for the students in other states looking for a lead to follow toward better education in the midst of a continuing pandemic.

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