New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez is opening an investigation into disproportionately harsh punishment of Native American children by Gallup McKinley County Schools.
New Mexico In Depth and ProPublica reported in December that Native students are expelled from New Mexico public schools at a much higher rate than other children, and that Gallup McKinley, with the largest Native student population of any public school district in the U.S., is largely responsible.
The district, which includes large swaths of the Navajo Nation in northwestern New Mexico, enrolls a quarter of the state’s Native students but was responsible for at least three-quarters of Native expulsions, according to student discipline data. The district’s annual expulsion rate was 4.6 per 1,000 students, at least 10 times as high as the rest of the state during the four school years ending in 2020.
Superintendent Mike Hyatt disputed those findings, claiming his district misreported long-term suspensions to the state Public Education Department (PED) as expulsions. But Gallup McKinley’s rate of student removals from school for 90 days or longer, regardless of what those removals were called, remained far higher than the rest of the state, an analysis by the news outlets confirmed.
Gallup McKinley officials did not respond this week to questions about Torrez’s intention to investigate the district’s discipline disparities. The Attorney General’s office has traditionally defended public bodies accused of wrongdoing, rather than investigate them. Torrez, who took office in January, expressed dismay that it’s taken this long for the Attorney General’s office to investigate agencies and school districts suspected of violating New Mexicans’ civil rights.