ALBUQUERQUE, NM - Today, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico filed a lawsuit in the Second Judicial District Court against Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) and former Cibola High School Teacher Mary Jane Eastin for violating the New Mexico Human Rights Act. The complaint alleges that Ms. Eastin created a hostile learning environment and discriminated against Native American student McKenzie Johnson when Eastin called her a “bloody Indian” in front of an entire class on Halloween of 2018. The complaint further alleges that APS failed to properly train teachers on the harms of racism and to provide for its students safety.
“Students cannot possibly be expected to thrive if they have to fear being called racist and derogatory names by the very people who are entrusted with their learning and safety,” said Preston Sanchez, Indigenous Justice Attorney at the ACLU of New Mexico. “That’s why it’s imperative that we hold schools accountable when they fail to prevent or adequately address incidents of racism and harassment.”
On October 31, 2018 Ms. Eastin dressed up as a “voodoo witch” for Halloween. During her Advanced Placement English class, she initiated a game in which she asked students questions and then rewarded those who answered correctly with marshmallows and gave dog food to those students who answered incorrectly. In the course of the class, she also approached a Native American student and asked her if she liked her braids. After the student replied affirmatively, she cut three inches from her hair with a pair of scissors. Soon after, Ms. Eastin inquired if Ms. Johnson was dressed as a “bloody Indian” in front of the entire class. Following public protests about the incident at school board meetings, APS announced that it had severed its relationship with Ms. Eastin, but allowed her to remain on the school’s payroll to exhaust her paid leave before retiring.
“We’re fighting to establish a clear precedent that our state antidiscrimination protections extend to students in public schools,” said Sanchez. “Not only must we ensure Native American students feel safe behind school walls, but we must also do everything in our power to ensure that they are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.”
The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and Parnall and Adams Law are cooperating in this lawsuit.
A copy of the complaint is available below.