LOS LUNAS—Los Lunas Schools has trademarked its name and has sent out cease and desist letters to at least one Facebook group that has the words in its names.
The district’s superintendent, Dana Sanders, is claiming the Los Lunas School District Parents Facebook page is infringing on its intellectual property rights by using the name.
“It has been brought to our attention that you or others you communicate with made unauthorized use of the Los Lunas Schools trademark for purposes of criticizing and providing false information about the District,” Sanders wrote in letters to the group’s administrators, Rowena Tachias and Monique Dereta.
The letter claims the Facebook page is “confusing and misleading to those individuals who are searching for information regarding the school district and its operations …”
“When I first opened the letter, I felt disbelief and shock,” Dereta said. “You sit there and read this and you only see the whole letter first, and then you start dissecting it bit by bit.
“We talked for hours that day because we were completely blind sided.”
Dereta immediately called Tachias to tell her she will most likely be receiving a letter as well.
“We went through a whole gamut of emotions from disbelief, anger and having to laugh at the contract I was demanded to sign,” Tachias said.
In a letter responding to the cease and desist, Tachias’ attorney said the use of the name is considered fair use of the trademark.
“Among several other ridiculous and unfounded accusations, the letter claims trademark infringement over Ms. Tachias’ use of the name ‘Los Lunas Public Schools’ on the internet to identify a Facebook discussion group.
“Based on that, it appears to us that Ms. Sanders is attempting through her letter to silence Ms. Tachias’ speech under color of law, in violation of her First Amendment rights — and by extension those of the aforementioned citizens and taxpayers.”
“The Los Lunas Schools would never try to impede anyone’s right to Freedom of Speech,” Sanders said in a statement to the News-Bulletin. “We are simply asking that people share their thoughts, feelings or opinions, in a venue that cannot be confused as endorsed by Los Lunas Schools.”
The original version of the Facebook page, which is a closed group, began in 2011 with simple intentions — to discuss the upcoming school board elections in 2011.
“The person who started the page was the spouse of an employee of the district,” Tachias said.
“Because people were commenting on existing board members who were running and some unpleasantness discussed, the person had to post in the group, ‘I have to close this down, or my spouse is going to get fired.’”
Tachias and Dereta were both shocked, and decided to bring the group back.
“I guess Monique and I just weren’t done talking,” Tachias said with a chuckle.
Shortly after the election, the Los Lunas Board of Education changed its public comment policy at school board meetings to limit public comments to only items on the agenda.
“This is when our page exploded,” Tachias said.
“I understand their attempt to rein it in, and I appreciate them encouraging people to handle things at the lowest possible level first, but sometimes they may have solved my problem but I sure want it on the record.”
Tachias said she wants it on the record to potentially help a similar problem that might arise down the road.
“This could’ve been handled completely differently,” Dereta added. “They are trying to shut us down; it’s very blatant in the last sentence of the letter.”
The Los Lunas Board of Education met in an executive session Tuesday night during its regular meeting to discuss “pending or threatened litigation” regarding this issue. However, the board didn’t take action following the closed-door discussion.
Sanders did not want to speak with the News-Bulletin about the matter, but issued a written statement instead.
“The Los Lunas School District Parent Discussion Facebook Page is often mistaken as a forum that is monitored and approved by district officials. When searching Facebook, this site is one of the first pages that appears, leading the community to believe that the site belongs to the Los Lunas Schools,” Sanders wrote. “Information on the page is then interpreted as correct and factual. On the contrary, there is often misinformation and misleading commentary that confuses the public and causes issues with the orderly operations of individual schools and the district.
“It is common place for public entities to protect their intellectual property by trademarking their name and/or logo. For example, APS as well as public universities such as UNM and NMSU have trademarked their name and logos to protect the interests of the institution,” the superintendent wrote. “No further comment will be made due to pending litigation.”