Event will take place Thursday at Navajo Technical University

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FARMINGTON — An information session planned this week in Crownpoint will provide details about a court decision that declared elements of the state's public education system unconstitutional.

Last July, a New Mexico district court judge ruled the state education department has systematically failed to provide sufficient education and opportunities to at-risk students, including Native Americans. The judge declared that a violation of the state Constitution.

The decision came after several families and 13 school districts sued the state in the consolidated lawsuit Yazzie v. State of New Mexico and Martinez v. State of New Mexico.

The lawsuit challenged what it described as the state's arbitrary and inadequate funding of public schools, and its failure to provide students with programs and services needed to be ready for college and careers, according to the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. The center, a legal advocacy group, represented the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, along with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

The judge ordered the state to overhaul its public school system and take the necessary steps to have resources, including funding, in compliance with the state Constitution by April 15.

Carlotta Penny Bird, senior program manager for the Institute for American Indian Education in Albuquerque, said this week's session is designed to explain the landmark case, which will influence schools on the Navajo Nation, as well as the court decision and pending action by state lawmakers to improve educational opportunities.

The institute, along with the Department of Diné Education, are organizing the session to inform parents, students and the public about the court decision's effect on schools on the Navajo Nation, Bird said.

"This is an attempt to get more people aware … because public education in New Mexico has to change and change to benefit the students," Bird said.

The session will be held from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday at Navajo Technical University's Wellness Center in Crownpoint.

The event includes a presentation about the case by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and a panel discussion with lead plaintiff Wilhelmina Yazzie and Tommy Lewis Jr., DODE superintendent of schools.

It will be streamed live on the Facebook page for the Office of Navajo Nation Scholarship and Financial Aid, and KGAK-AM 1330 and KCZY-FM 107.3 will broadcast the event live.

Jamie McGee, administrator services officer for the Navajo Nation Teachers Education Consortium, said while the session is designed to be informative, organizers would like to hear questions and comments from the public.

In addition to gathering input from audience members, organizers will accept questions, comments and recommendations during the event by email at jmcgee@navajo-nsn.gov, by text at 480-925-9425, or by messaging the scholarship office's Facebook page.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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