New Mexico teachers sue Public Education Department over speech rule

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – The ACLU of New Mexico has filed a lawsuit on behalf of five teachers, one parent and one student over a New Mexico Public Education Department rule they say is keeping teachers from criticizing standardized testing.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday morning, centers around a 2009 PED rule that says all school district staff shall not “disparage or diminish the significance, importance or use of the standardized tests.”

“They’re allowed to speak favorably, positively,” said Maria Martinez Sanchez with the ACLU of New Mexico. “They’re allowed to praise the test but they’re not allowed to speak negatively about the test.”

One of the plaintiffs in the case is Mary Mackie, a teacher at Montezuma Elementary School. She says being able to have open conversations with parents and express their views on testing is important.

“If I felt like a certain student shouldn’t take that test or that it would be damaging to them, I should be able to say something,” Mackie said.

The lawsuit alleges that another plaintiff, Anna Soeiro, was told during training at a Santa Fe school that she was not allowed to post anything negative about the PARCC on her personal Facebook page and that PED would monitor social media to check.

“We’ve been approached by several teachers who are in fear of losing their license because of this regulation,” said Martinez Sanchez.

In a phone interview, PED Secretary Hanna Skandera says the lawsuit caught her administration off-guard because the rule in question was instituted in 2009 under her predecessor Dr. Veronica Garcia and her administration has not enforced it.

“Quite frankly, we’ve done nothing,” Skandera said.

Skandera says she wished the teachers had approached PED with concerns over the rule first before filing a lawsuit. While Skandera says the department believes teachers should have a voice, she questions whether the classroom is the right place for them to slam standardized tests.

“It’s important that it’s not just about what we don’t say it’s about what we do and making sure that we emphasize the importance and value of our education and  the importance of excellence,” Skandera said. “Finding that balance is crucial.”

Garcia tells News 13 that, to her recollection, the rule was intended to be focused on the classroom, not what teachers could say outside of it or in parent-teacher conferences.

APS parents and grandparents News 13 caught up with seemed to share that sentiment.

“Teachers should try and help students be encouraged about testing,” said Tiffany McQueary Conover. “[But]  everyone’s entitled to their opinion and teachers aren’t excluded from that.”

“What better person to speak out if there’s some type of negativity or some problem that they see,” said Melvin Vigil. “They’re trained, they’re professionals.

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