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Mandate for 180 Day School Years Halted by New Mexico Judge

Rows of School Buses
Rows of School Buses

By Susan Montoya Bryan
Adapted for radio by S. Baxter Clinton

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A new mandate that requires school districts across New Mexico to adopt calendars that consist of at least 180 days was put on hold by a judge on Monday may 13th while he considers the change's legality.

Dozens of school districts and superintendents have been challenging the state Public Education Department over the change. Teacher unions and Republican lawmakers also have raised concerns about the rule.

In granting the school districts' request for a preliminary injunction, Judge Dustin Hunter said the rule undermines the Legislature's intent when it adopted legislation in 2023 that called for extending the number of hours children spend in the classroom and the time teachers have for professional development.

Hunter said, “If the Legislature had intended to expand the number of days with all the accompanying costs — such as transportation and food and specialty providers such as special education and everything else — it necessarily would have provided the funding or given clear guidance as to why it was unable to.”

The plaintiffs had argued that the requirement would result in budget shortfalls, particularly for districts that have operated on four-day weeks for decades.

Executive director of the New Mexico Coalition of Education Leaders, Stan Rounds, testified “There are 89 different stories in 89 different districts and 89 different ways of getting good education to kids. They are very different. One size does not fit all.”

State officials contend the change will ultimately improve educational outcomes.

Holly Agajanian, the chief general counsel for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, argued that the school districts would not be harmed if the state is allowed to move forward with implementing the mandate pending a ruling on the merits of the case.

She said the districts could submit budgets with two alternative calendars — one complying with the 180-day rule and one assuming the school does not need to meet the mandate if the districts win their case.

Agajanian told the court that although there have been substantial comments about the rule, the court “should not view it as the opinion of the public, especially when balancing harms.”

Attorneys for the school districts said 98% of the thousands of public comments were against the rule.

Shantar Baxter Clinton is the hourly News Reporter for KSFR. He’s earned an Associates of the Arts from Bard College at Simons Rock and a Bachelors in journalism with a minor in anthropology from the University of Maine.