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Judge forces issue on N.M. teacher evals

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Courts > Possible injunction to be decided later this month

By Tris DeRoma

SANTA FE — On Thursday, Santa Fe First Judicial District Court Judge David Thomson put the fight between unions and the New Mexico Public Education Department’s over the teacher evaluation process on a very fast track.
In February, the American Federation of Teachers New Mexico, the Albuquerque Federation of Teachers and several individuals filed a lawsuit against the New Mexico Public Education Department and the New Mexico Secretary of Education Hanna Skandera.
The plaintiffs called the new teacher evaluation process “flawed” and a violation of a teacher’s constitutional rights.
A request for a preliminary injunction was filed three months later by the plaintiffs in an effort to halt the evaluation process, saying that it was already doing “irreparable harm” to thousands of teachers across New Mexico.
Thursday, Thomson heard from both sides on why he should, or should not, file a preliminary injunction.
During the hearing, the attorneys for the plaintiffs told Thomson that they had already received “thousands” of emails from across the state from teachers on how they’re being impacted by last school year’s evaluations. Some said their evaluation scores have either stopped their careers from advancing and some said they are one step away from being fired as a result.
The plaintiff’s attorney, Shane Youtz, told the judge that the evaluation process is also allowing advancement for teachers who never should have been awarded advancement.
The defense, represented by Jeffrey J. Wechsler, told the judge that the plaintiffs have simply not come up with enough information or data to make those assumptions and that the state, the NMPED, needed more time to prove its case.
They asked that the preliminary injunction either be postponed or combined with a final decision to be made at a later date.
“We fundamentally disagree with the assessment of the Public Education Department that no educator in New Mexico has been harmed under the evaluative put in place by Secretary Skandera,” said AFT NM President Stephanie Ly through a written statement.
Judge Thomson did grant the defense more time to prepare, but also set a definite preliminary injunction hearing for Sept. 16 and Sept. 21. A trial to decide the entire issue, whether the NPED’s evaluation process is valid or not, has been set for April 4.
The American Federation of Teachers president, Randi Weingarten, was present at Thursday’s hearing, as well, and declared the judge’s ruling a step in the right direction in AFT’s case against the state.
“Today the court told the governor and secretary that it will not countenance further delay — by setting up both a trial date and a hearing on our belief that educators have been harmed by an unfair, unreliable and inaccurate (Value Added Model) evaluation scheme that has misclassified good teachers as ineffective,” said Weingarten in a statement.

Editor’s Note: For an in-depth story on the issue, read the Los Alamos Monitor next week