Q and A with FMS Superintendent Schmidt
Question and Answer Email with FMS Superintendent Dr. Eugene Schmidt.By Laurynn AmorminoRadar Staff Reporter
May 21, 2021
Rocinante Radar: What’s your understanding of qualified immunity?
Dr. Schmidt: A person may claim to have suffered deprivation of any rights due to an act or omission to the bill of rights of the constitution of New Mexico. Simply stated, HB 4 permits an individual to bring a claim against a public body on behalf or or under the authority of a public body for a violation of an individual's rights. Under current law, public school employees have qualified immunity in that the employee can't be sued as an individual but rather a school employee.
Rocinante Radar: To your knowledge, have any district employees ever been protected by qualified immunity in the past? If so, what happened?
Dr. Schmidt: None that I am aware
Rocinante Radar: What are some cases in which you know that school employees have been protected by qualified immunity?
Dr. Schmidt: I have no knowledge of any cases
Rocinante Radar: How would those cases be handled today after the recent passage of the New Mexico - Civil Rights Act that ended qualified immunity?
Dr. Schmidt: Once the new law goes into effect, any case will be investigated by the district. in addition, Farmington would inform the district's legal counsel as well as the district's insurance carrier, who would also assign an independent investigator to view the claim.
Rocinante Radar: Which types of employees are most at risk of a personal lawsuit from students?
Dr. Schmidt: Any public employee including school staff, police, fire department, etc can be subject to a lawsuit. However, the claim must be filed in the person's name within the agency for whom the employee works. Specifically, the claim must be brought exclusively against a public body.
Rocinante Radar: Are the qualified immunity rules similar in the surrounding states and the Navajo nation?
Dr. Schmidt: It is my understanding that most states grant qualified immunity to public employees. I am not sure if the Navajo Nation has changed their rules for qualified immunity. I will share that it is my suspicion that all government entities have some form of qualified immunity.
Rocinante Radar: Are there any other things you would like to say about this topic?
Dr. Schmidt: No, however, I applaud you for writing about a difficult and sensitive topic.