Education ruling orders state officials to provide reliable internet to at-risk students

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Rural school districts are celebrating a win after a judge ordered the state to make sure at-risk students have access to the internet. Remote learning has been a challenge for many students amid the pandemic.

"We have over 1,500 students that still cannot sufficiently access the internet, even after providing hot spots for them," said Mike Hyatt, the superintendent of Gallup-McKinley County Schools.

That challenge is not unique. According to the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, nearly a quarter of New Mexicans don’t have broadband internet. It’s even higher in tribal communities — 80%!

In a 2018 ruling for the Yazzie/Martinez lawsuit, the court ordered the state to provide sufficient education to all public school students. On Friday, the court also ordered the state to provide computers or tablets to at-risk students, even providing them with high-speed internet service.

"This was a great order, great rule, winning for the plaintiffs and looking forward to seeing what happens next," said Preston Sanchez, the attorney for the Yazzie plaintiffs.

Cuba Independent School District Superintendent Dr. Karen Sanchez-Griego said this order takes a big weight off districts. With many districts having to pull money from other areas to meet this need, now the responsibility falls onto the state.

"Internet connection in this day and age, even prior to the pandemic, was a basic tool that kids needed, just like a book," Sanchez-Griego said.

The order also will provide school districts with money for digital devices, cellular hotspots and community Wi-Fi locations.