Less than three weeks ago, a judge ordered New Mexico to provide computers and high-speed internet to at-risk students for remote learning.

On Tuesday, he issued another mandate.

Hurry it up, he said.

First Judicial District Judge Matthew J. Wilson ruled the state must immediately determine which public education students and teachers do not have digital devices and then get them some.

“Defendants shall obtain this information and the costs of providing these devices from each school district,” Wilson wrote in his ruling.

Wilson also ruled the state must determine which students do not have those devices for at-home learning and provide them.

And, the judge said, the state must provide school districts with qualified technical staff to support and maintain those digital devices, internet access and other remote learning needs.

Wilson ruled this order was to take effect immediately.

And he underlined immediately.

The decision came more than four months after plaintiffs in the landmark Yazzie/Martinez lawsuit filed a motion claiming the state failed to provide all children with the necessary tools to study remotely during the pandemic.

Attorney Alisa Diehl, who is part of the legal team representing the plaintiffs in the case, said Tuesday the judge’s order “really reiterated our children’s education must be our highest priority.”

She said the state has failed to provide sufficient digital learning tools to help students during the pandemic and the new order is “holding their [the state’s] feet to the fire.”

Judy Robinson, spokeswoman for the state Public Education Department, said Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart discussed the ruling during an afternoon staff meeting Tuesday.

She said Stewart said the ruling “underscores the urgency and it is exactly in line with the work we have been dong for the last 14 months and we are getting closer and closer” [to achieving the court ruling’s mandate].

The lawsuit was initiated by a group of students, parents, educators and lawmakers in 2014. In 2018, First Judicial District Judge Sarah Singleton, who has since died, ruled New Mexico’s public education system violated the state constitution when it came to providing for at-risk students.

Though Singleton did not specify how the state should satisfy her ruling in terms of specific funding, her order made it clear state officials and legislators had to find ways to help those children succeed in a state that generally ranks at or near the bottom of most national studies about public education.

The state has increased spending for public schools since that decree. This year, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, signed a $7.4 billion budget into law with $3.3 billion — or about 45 percent of the budget — dedicated to public education.

That includes a $183 million increase in the state’s per-student funding formula.

General Assignment Reporter

Robert Nott has covered education and youth issues for the Santa Fe New Mexican. He is assigned to The New Mexican's city desk where he covers a general assignment beat.

(1) comment

Mike Johnson

Our entire valley has no high speed internet, how does this judge think he can force that to be done overnight and who pays for all this??? I have tried many times to get high speed internet and it is just not available at any price, this judge is totally unrealistic about what can be done around this state. He should be removed.

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