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District court rules against Floyd board members

SANTA FE — A district judge ruled Friday against Floyd school board members, who sought an injunction on their Aug. 4 suspension by the Public Education Department.

The board members — Leon Nall, Jeff Essary, Charlsea Lee, Vicki Banister and Ryan Bollema, voted 5-0 in a July 26 meeting to make many COVID-19 mitigation requirements from the PED optional, including face masks, social distancing and advanced air filtration.

Education Secretary Ryan Stewart warned the board it would face suspension if it did not rescind its July 26 decisions. The board convened again for an Aug. 2 special meeting, and following an hour-long executive session declined to rescind its votes. Instead, the board placed Superintendent Damon Terry on paid administrative leave and sent communication to the PED alleging it did not have the right to suspend the Floyd board.

Stewart on Aug. 4 suspended the board members and reinstated Terry, and six days later delegated district governance to Stan Rounds, executive director of the New Mexico Coalition of Educational Leaders.

“This ruling is an affirmation that we, as a state, have a responsibility to our children to ensure that they have safe and healthy learning environments,” Stewart said in a PED release. “We continue to take that responsibility very seriously and are grateful that the court shares that point of view.”

A public hearing providing the Floyd board members an opportunity to contest the suspension remains to be scheduled.

A message left for the Floyd board members’ counsel was not immediately returned.

Stewart’s final day as education secretary was Friday; he announced in late July he was leaving the post to tend to family health matters. Former Los Alamos Superintendent Kurt Steinhaus is serving as secretary designate.

According to court documents:

• On the day Stewart suspended the Floyd board, the PED filed suit against the five members in the First Judicial District in Santa Fe. The suit alleged the board “placed school staff and educators in the untenable position of choosing to either risk adverse licensure measures for violating PED guidance, or risk adverse employment measures if they followed PED’s guidance in contravention of the school board’s actions.”

• In response, the Floyd board members sought a temporary restraining order, arguing the PED failed to comply with formal rule making processes required for issuance of emergency regulations.

• In an affidavit filed Thursday, Stewart said because Floyd was scheduled to start school the Monday following the special board meeting, he believed immediate suspension of the board was “warranted so that the district could offer safe and uninterrupted in-person learning opportunities.”

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