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HomeNewsLegal Battle Begins Over New Mexico’s 180-Day School Calendar Rule

Legal Battle Begins Over New Mexico’s 180-Day School Calendar Rule

On May 2, a hearing was held in this case. Find that update here.

A legal battle has begun in New Mexico’s education sector as a lawsuit challenges the implementation of the state’s 180-day school calendar rule.

Filed April 18 in the Ninth Judicial District of New Mexico, the lawsuit targets the New Mexico Public Education Department (PED) over its mandate for all schools to have a minimum of 180 instructional days per year.

Legal proceedings hit an immediate hurdle as all five judges in the Ninth Judicial District recused themselves from the case in a single court filing. Judges cited “a bias or personal knowledge of the facts or a party in this matter.” The judges’ decision adds to the complexity of the lawsuit, which now goes to the New Mexico Supreme Court for judicial appointment.

The lawsuit is in response to PED’s efforts to standardize instructional time across the state, which includes the requirement for all schools to adhere to a minimum of 180 instructional days per academic year. This move has sparked controversy since its proposal, with critics arguing that it infringes on local control and may not address the root causes of educational challenges in the state.

This lawsuit comes as New Mexico is working to resolve the Yazzie-Martinez sufficiency lawsuit, where a judge ruled in 2018 the state was not providing its students a “sufficient” education. At the same time, only 34 percent of students in the state can read at grade level.

In an email response to inquiries from New Mexico Education, Janelle Garcia, Deputy Director of Communications at the Public Education Department, stated, “While we do not comment on pending litigation, we want to assure New Mexicans that their Public Education Department remains dedicated to promoting a robust learning environment and fostering excellence in education throughout New Mexico.”

New Mexico Education sought further clarification from Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office regarding the lawsuit. In response, Michael Coleman, communications director for Lujan Grisham, affirmed the administration’s commitment to the 180-day requirement, writing in an email, “Young people in our state deserve every chance for success, and we believe that increasing quality school time will significantly improve student performance.”

What is this Lawsuit?

The lawsuit filed in the Ninth Judicial District of New Mexico challenges PED’s recent mandate, known as Rule 6.10.5 NMAC, requiring all schools in the state to maintain a minimum of 180 instructional days per academic year. The plaintiff group, which includes 54 school districts and four charter schools,  alleges that this mandate contradicts legislative intent and existing statutes regarding educational flexibility.

Specifically, the plaintiffs argue that PED’s imposition of the 180-day requirement undermines the legislative framework outlined in House Bill 130, passed during the 2023 Legislative Session.

HB130 aimed to increase instructional time for students, by increasing the number of required instructional hours. Plaintiffs argue that the new rule disregards the legislative intent behind House Bill 130, which they say, emphasized the importance of providing districts with autonomy to adapt the number of days of instruction, so long as instructional hour minimums were met. 

As evidence the rule goes against legislative intent, plaintiffs cited 50 legislators who declared their opposition to the rule, and a letter from the Legislative Education Study Committee.

The lawsuit alleges that the PED’s rule fails to adequately consider the challenges faced by rural school districts, particularly those operating on four-day school weeks. Critics argue that the mandate for 180 instructional days imposes an undue burden on these districts, which may struggle to meet the requirement without compromising other educational priorities.

PED has defended the rule, arguing that it is in line with legislative intent to improve student achievement.

To resolve the lawsuit, plaintiffs are requesting a Temporary Restraining Order, and relief to prevent the enforcement of Rule 6.10.5 NMAC. They aim to preserve the status quo and prohibit the PED from implementing the 180-day requirement until the legal proceedings are resolved.

Additionally, the plaintiffs seek a ruling that declares the PED’s rule invalid and unenforceable, citing its conflict with legislative intent and existing statute.

Why Have a 180-Day Rule?

PED’s implementation of Rule 6.10.5 NMAC, mandating a minimum of 180 instructional days per academic year for all schools in the state, reflects the Lujan Grisham administration’s stated commitment to address long standing challenges in New Mexico’s education system.

“No student should be told that their progress isn’t a priority,” Lujan Grisham said during her State of the State address, emphasizing the state’s commitment to providing top-notch education for its youth. “It’s challenging, but it’s time we did the right thing.”

When the rule was implemented, Secretary Arsenio Romero said the rule allows local communities to retain control of their calendars.

The adopted rule provides school districts and charter schools to apply for an exemption from the 180-day calendar, if certain performance metrics are met in reading proficiency or student growth. To qualify for an exemption, there are several markers a school district must meet:

  • School districts or charter schools with a proficiency rate in reading and language arts below 45 percent will be required to show a minimum improvement of 15 percentage points in these subjects to qualify for exemptions under the new guidelines.
  • School districts or charter schools with a reading and language arts proficiency rate of 45 percent or more but less than 65 percent, will be required to increase scores at least 10 percentage points in achievement within these subjects to qualify for an exemption.
  • School districts or charter schools that have a proficiency rate in reading and language arts of 65 percent or higher but below 80 percent are required to achieve a minimum growth of eight percentage points in these subjects to qualify for exemptions under the new guidelines.
  • Should a school district or charter school attain a proficiency rate of 80 percent or higher in reading and language arts, it will qualify for an exemption from the 180 instructional-day mandate, irrespective of any further growth in these metrics.

The most recent data about student achievement from the PED was released on November 1, showing that only 34  percent of New Mexico’s students can read at grade level. Only 25  percent of New Mexico’s students can do math at grade level.

At the time the rule was implemented, Romero said, “This is about doing what’s right for kids, even if it’s hard.”

Who is Suing?

Altogether, 58 education entities across New Mexico have sued the Public Education Department over the 180-Day Rule, those entities are:

  • New Mexico School Superintendents Association
  • Alamogordo Public Schools
  • Animas Public Schools
  • Aztec Municipal School District
  • Belen Consolidated Schools
  • Capitan Municipal Schools
  • Carrizozo Municipal School District
  • Central Consolidated School District
  • Cesar Chavez Charter School
  • Cimmaron Municipal Schools
  • Clayton Municipal Schools
  • Cloudcroft Municipal School District
  • Clovis Municipal School District
  • Cobre Consolidated School District
  • Corona Public Schools
  • Deming Public Schools
  • Des Moines Public Schools
  • Dora Consolidated Schools
  • Elida Municipal Schools
  • Estancia Municipal School District
  • Farmington Municipal Schools
  • Floyd Municipal Schools
  • Fort Sumner Municipal Schools
  • Gadsden Independent School District
  • Grady Municipal School District
  • Grants Cibola County Schools
  • Hondo Valley Public Schools
  • Horizon West Academy
  • House Municipal Schools
  • Jal Public Schools
  • Jemez Valley Public Schools
  • Logan Municipal Schools
  • Lordsburg Municipal Schools
  • Magdalena Municipal School District
  • Maxwell Municipal Schools
  • Melrose Municipal Schools
  • Mesa Vista Consolidated School District
  • Mission Achievement and Success Charter School
  • Mosquero Municipal Schools
  • Mountainair Public Schools
  • Penasco Independent School District
  • Portales Municipal Schools
  • Quemado Independent Schools
  • Questa Independent Schools
  • Reserve Independent Schools
  • Roy Municipal Schools
  • San Jon Municipal School District
  • Santa Fe Public Schools
  • Silver Consolidated School District
  • Socorro Consolidated Schools
  • Springer Municipal Schools
  • Tatum Municipal Schools
  • Texico Municipal Schools
  • Truth or Consequences Municipal Schools
  • Tucumcari Public Schools
  • Tularosa Municipal School District
  • Vista Grande Charter High School
  • Wagon Mound Public Schools

Of the entities suing, the following districts either meet or are below the state average of 34 percent of their student body able to read at grade level in English Language Arts (ELA) 

  • Animas Public Schools – ELA Proficiency: 31 percent
  • Clovis Municipal School District – ELA Proficiency: 34 percent
  • Cobre Consolidated School District – ELA Proficiency: 31 percent
  • Deming Public Schools – ELA Proficiency: 5 percent
  • Estancia Municipal School District – ELA Proficiency: 34 percent
  • Hondo Valley Public Schools – ELA Proficiency: 30 percent
  • Jal Public Schools – ELA Proficiency: 26 percent
  • Lordsburg Municipal Schools – ELA Proficiency: 27 percent
  • Magdalena Municipal School District – ELA Proficiency: 31 percent
  • Portales Municipal Schools – ELA Proficiency: 33 percent
  • Questa Independent Schools – ELA Proficiency: 28 percent
  • Socorro Consolidated Schools – ELA Proficiency: 33 percent
  • Springer Municipal Schools – ELA Proficiency: 22 percent
  • Truth or Consequences Municipal Schools – ELA Proficiency: 33 percent
  • Wagon Mound Public Schools – ELA Proficiency: 27 percent