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May 24, 2002

District Judge Orders Approval of Bridge Academy Charter School

(Santa Fe, NM)- District Court Judge Art Encinias today ordered the Las Vegas City Board of Education to approve the charter application for the Bridge Academy Charter School by Friday, May 31. The judge enforced a March 1 decision by the New Mexico State Board of Education (SBE) that overturned the local board's decision denying the charter application.

"The judge has upheld the authority of the State Board of Education under the Charter Schools Act, which represents the will of the people to provide additional alternatives for parents and students in public education," said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Michael J. Davis.

The judge emphasized that elected public officials take an oath to uphold the law and must not place themselves above it. This case was the first time that any issue involving the approval of a charter school in New Mexico had been taken to court.

Dr. Carol Winkel, the principal organizer of the charter school, applied to the local board on September 28, 2001, for a charter to operate the Bridge Academy Charter School. On November 20, the board voted unanimously to deny the charter. Dr. Winkel then appealed to the SBE on December 4 regarding the denial of the charter application.

At its regular meeting on January 14, 2002, the SBE heard presentations regarding the charter application from New Mexico State Department of Education staff, Dr. Winkel and local board representatives and decided to seek additional input from the West Las Vegas Public Schools board before making a final decision. The SBE heard the views of the West Las Vegas Public Schools on March 1, before acting by majority vote to reverse the local board's decision.

The judge's order came at the close of a hearing held in response to a petition filed on Monday by State Superintendent Davis, acting on behalf of the SBE, requesting the court to order the local board to approve the charter. The district urged the court to deny the petition on the basis of the excellence of its programs and choices offered to parents and children.

"The State Board of Education's view has been that the Charter Schools Act encourages additional alternatives even when the district offers strong educational programs. Strong programming in and of itself is not a reason for denying a charter school application," said State Superintendent Davis.