A Native education organization asked embattled Legislative Education Study Committee director Rachel Gudgel to resign this week after she requested anti-racism training, citing disparaging comments she made about Native American education while on the job.
In the letter sent Tuesday, Indigenous Montessori Institute director Tracey Cordero wrote she couldn’t agree to offer the training to Gudgel “absent of our explicit expression of support for our leaders and sovereign nations.”
The letter added if Gudgel chooses to remain as director of the influential committee, the institute would be willing to enter a contract focusing on “Anti-Racist Approaches to Indigenous Education” — but only if she, staff members and legislators on the panel “commit to attend and engage in the self-work this training requires.”
Several legislators and Native leaders have called for Gudgel’s removal after complaints arose over comments she made about Indigenous education. One attributed to her — “It’s not like making beaded sandals is going to improve student outcomes” — enraged a variety of groups and prompted an investigation.
A tie vote in the committee earlier this summer allowed Gudgel to keep her job.
She issued an apology in July, writing she regretted her “ignorant choice of words and cavalier attitude.”
Neither Cordero nor representatives from the school could be reached for comment Friday.
Gudgel and at least one member of the committee took the letter as a rejection.
In an email to Cordero on Friday afternoon, Gudgel wrote: “I respect your perspective and your solidarity with your colleagues. Should you change your mind and reconsider training focusing on Anti-Racist Approaches to Indigenous Education, please feel free to reach out. This will continue to be of interest to LESC going forward.”
In a telephone interview, Gudgel said she reached out to the organization a few weeks ago. She declined further comment.
Legislative Education Study Committee member Derrick Lente, D-Sandia Pueblo, called Cordero’s letter “solidarity at its finest.”
Lente, who made the initial call for Gudgel’s removal, questioned how much more public money should be invested in Gudgel through future trainings.
“At this point, the state has paid for an investigation of her, a professional coach for her,” he said. “How much more do we have to invest in this individual?”
Another representative who sits on the committee and voted to remove Gudgel, Rep. Christine Trujillo, said she was unaware of the letter Cordero sent to Gudgel. But she noted workplace trainings wouldn’t repair the issue.
“In terms of her actual role in her committee, everything is at a standstill,” Trujillo, D-Albuquerque, said of Gudgel. “But it’s not going to go away.”
Committee chairman Sen. Bill Soules, Las Cruces Democrat who voted to retain Gudgel, canceled a meeting that was supposed to be held in late July in Shiprock, citing concerns over COVID-19 protocols on the Navajo Nation.
Trujillo, Lente and others have said the cancellation may have been tied to planned demonstrations against Gudgel.
Soules on Friday morning said he had not seen the letter, but added he previously pushed for “anti-bias” trainings for the education committee within the last month and a half.
He said the committee is continuing to look at “where things are.”
He added that at next week’s meeting in Socorro, there may be an executive session of the committee and also a possible discussion on how the it evaluates executives in the future.
“We’re going to be talking kind of generally about [an] evaluation of the executive, whether it’s Rachel Gudgel or someone else. How does the LESC go about doing that?” he said. “Part of the problem with this whole issue is there really wasn’t any process determined, assigned or anything of that sort.”