Gov.’s at­tor­ney: Pri­vate schools are be­ing treated bet­ter

Lawyer con­tends pub­lic schools are more lim­ited for in-per­son classes

Albuquerque Journal - - METRO & NM - BY EDMUNDO CAR­RILLO JOUR­NAL STAFF WRITER

A lawyer for the Gov­er­nor’s Of­fice says pri­vate schools are ac­tu­ally be­ing treated bet­ter than pub­lic schools un­der the state’s pub­lic health or­der, con­trary to what a fa­ther of an Al­bu­querque Acad­emy stu­dent al­leges in a fed­eral law­suit.

Dou­glas Peter­son filed a law­suit against Gov. Michelle Lu­jan Gr­isham and Depart­ment of Health Sec­re­tary Kathyleen Kunkel ear­lier this month al­leg­ing that pri­vate school stu­dents are be­ing treated dif­fer­ently from pub­lic school stu­dents. Peter­son’s daugh­ter, iden­ti­fied as “K.P.” in court doc­u­ments, is a sev­enth grader at Al­bu­querque Acad­emy.

Pri­vate schools in the state are au­tho­rized to op­er­ate at a 25% ca­pac­ity, whereas pub­lic schools can op­er­ate at 50% ca­pac­ity un­der a pub­lic health or­der ad­dress­ing the COVID-19 pan­demic. Pub­lic ele­men­tary schools have been given the green light to con­tinue in-per­son learn­ing, but the state has not made an an­nounce­ment as to when pub­lic mid­dle and high schools can re­sume in-per­son classes.

At a hear­ing in U.S. Dis­trict Court in Al­bu­querque on Wed­nes­day, Peter­son asked Judge Wil­liam P. John­son to or­der that all schools be treated the same un­der the pub­lic health or­der. John­son said he would is­sue a rul­ing at a later time.

Matthew Gar­cia, chief gen­eral coun­sel to Lu­jan Gr­isham, said pri­vate schools are ac­tu­ally be­ing treated bet­ter un­der the pub­lic health or­der be­cause schools like Al­bu­querque Acad­emy can re­sume in-per­son classes,

but most pub­lic schools can’t. He also pointed out that Al­bu­querque Pub­lic Schools has de­cided not to re­sume in-per­son learn­ing un­til Jan­uary.

“K.P. is get­ting bet­ter treat­ment than any sim­i­larly sit­u­ated sev­enth grader in Al­bu­querque,” Gar­cia said.

An Al­bu­querque Acad­emy spokes­woman pre­vi­ously told the Jour­nal that the school is cur­rently on­line only, but could re­turn its full stu­dent body if it was al­lowed to op­er­ate at 50% ca­pac­ity.

Gar­cia said the 25% limit is for any en­closed space on cam­pus, so classes can be held in gyms and cafe­te­rias.

In ad­di­tion to ar­gu­ing that the 25% limit vi­o­lates Peter­son’s right to send his daugh­ter to a pri­vate school, Peter­son’s at­tor­ney, Deena Buchanan, ar­gued that the re­stric­tion vi­o­lates the pri­vate con­tract be­tween Peter­son and Al­bu­querque Acad­emy. She said the con­tract, which was signed in March, didn’t men­tion any­thing about on­line learn­ing, and it’s un­clear when K.P. will be able to go to school.

“There is no end in sight for any of these re­stric­tions,” Buchanan said.

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