LOS LUNAS — The New Mexico Public Education Department requested the First Judicial District Court of Santa Fe reevaluate their decision in the appeal of the suspension of the Los Lunas Board of Education, leading to the reinstatement of two board members, Eloy Giron and Bryan Smith.
The department submitted a petition for a writ of certiorari for a reconsideration of the decision at the appeals court level on June 21, claiming the lower court’s decision conflicted with the New Mexico Constitution, state statute and case law.
“Granting the writ is warranted here because the issue presented by this appeal — whether the Secretary may suspend a local school board and under what facts — is an issue of substantial public interest,” the petition reads. “Moreover the district court’s strained interpretation of the Secretary’s decision reflects a failure to apply the differential standard of review required.”
In May of 2021, the NMPED secretary indefinitely suspended all five members of the Los Lunas Board of Education. That decision was made permanent in August of 2021 following two public hearings NMPED held for the ousted board members.
Board Members Eloy Giron and Bryan Smith appealed the permanent suspension arguing the statutes under which they were suspended were unconstitutional on their face, and unconstitutional as applied by NMPED since they were denied due process.
They also argued the secretary’s final decision was not supported by substantial evidence and did not follow the process as outlined by state statute.
First district court judge Maria Sanchez-Gagne heard the appeal on May 17, ruling the New Mexico Public Education Department did act within the scope of its authority and did not act fraudulently in their decision to permanently suspend Giron and Smith.
However, she also ruled the public education secretary not consulting with the Public Education Commission prior to the 2021 suspension effectively reverses the initial decision for the appellants.
The New Mexico Public Education Commission is the authorization and oversight board for New Mexico charter schools; however, according to state statute, the secretary may only suspend a local school board “after consultation with the commission.”
She ordered Giron and Smith return to their seats on the board, replacing appointed board members Sonya C’Moya, District 2, and Ragon Espinoza, District 4, respectively.
“The secretary successfully argues to the district court that it should limit its order to Mr. Giron and Mr. Smith as the only appellants in the district court,” the board members’ response to the petition read. “Judicial estoppel prevents a party who has successfully assumed a certain position in judicial proceedings from then assuming an inconsistent position on appeal.”
In conjunction with the petition for a writ of certiorari, the public education department also filed a motion to stay, which asks the court to hold the order to reinstate Giron and Smith while the appeal is waiting to be heard in court.
If approved, it will reinstate C’Moya and Espinoza to their appointed positions on the Los Lunas Board of Education.
If the court moves forward with the appellate court review of the district court decision, the board members also filed a conditional petition, which if approved, asks the court to decide whether the suspension violated the New Mexico constitution and New Mexico state statute, and violated Giron and Smith’s rights to due process.
As of July 18, no date for the appellate proceedings has been set.