New Mexico Denies Request To Partition A Navajo District

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y Santa Fe, N.M.--The New Mexico State Board of Education has denied a request by a group of citizens, most of them white, to withdraw from a large Navajo-controlled school district in a northern section of the state.

The residents of Kirtland, N.M., calling themselves Valley Concerned Citizens, had petitioned the board to form a new district in their area, which is now part of the Central Consolidated School District.

The board, by a 7-to-3 vote, turned down the request on Aug. 25 after hearing strong arguments against the proposal from staff members of the New Mexico State Department of Education.

William McEuen, chief legal counsel for the department, told board members they would be vulnerable to a discrimination suit if they approved the split in the district.

The Central district rests mostly on Navajo land in the extreme northwest corner of New Mexico, bordering Colorado and Arizona. About 80 percent of the 5,500 students in the district are Navajo, as are four of the five members of the local school board. Most of the white children in the district live in the Kirtland area.

If the division had been approved, the new Kirtland district would have been about 50 percent Navajo. The remaining Central district would have been 98 percent Navajo.

Law Changed Last Year

The movement to divide the district dates back several years. But until last year, state law required that any such change be recommended by the local school board to the state board of education. Last year, however, the law was changed to allow a petition effort.

Now, if 60 percent of the voters within the proposed new district sign a petition, the state board will hear the request. The Kirtland voters had met that requirement.

Ron Wooten, a member of the Kirtland citizens' group, told the board that the area's children are not receiving the best possible education in the existing district.

"I feel the education values in our area have been deteriorating," he said. "Many of us share a profound feeling of helplessness and frustration."

He added: "We feel that the east side [Kirtland] is more college-oriented, while the west side [the reservation] is more culturally oriented."

The group also said the split would simplify the administration of the 2,800-square-mile area.

The Rev. Charles Lee, a Navajo minister who testified before the board, said, "A community like Kirtland feels uncomfortable because a minority society has caught up and is finally having input."

Vol. 02, Issue 01

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