Members of the Jemez Mountain Home School Speech and Debate Team (and younger siblings who hope someday to be allowed to compete). The students wear duct tape because they feel that their first amendment right to free speech has been infringed, that their voices have been silenced, by the New Mexico Activities Association who is actively preventing their participation in high school speech and debate competitions in New Mexico. Courtesy photo
SANTA FE ―The New Mexico Speech and Debate Association Congressional Debate Championship got underway Saturday morning at Desert Academy in Santa Fe, but one New Mexico Team is conspicuously absent.
After nearly two decades of continuous team participation in New Mexico invitational and state championship tournaments, the Jemez Mountain Home School Speech and Debate Team has been excluded from competition. The Jemez students composed legislation and submitted their entries for the competition only to be informed by Lisa Lincoln, President of the New Mexico Speech and Debate Association (NMSDA), in an email that, “According to NMAA rules and the NMSDA By-laws, we are sorry to inform you that we cannot accept your registration for the NMSDA Speech and Debate State Tournament(s) unless you are a member school of NMAA.”
NMAA rules were arbitrarily modified and new NMSDA By-laws written this past fall to explicitly exclude home school team participation. Home school students across all academic activities that had previously been allowed open and full participation, including but not limited to speech and debate, chess, science fair, and Science Olympiad, were affected with no prior warning and no public discussion.
Meanwhile, a New Mexico regional Science Olympiad competition is also in full swing Saturday at UNM. For unknown reasons, the NMAA has granted a special exception to home school Science Olympiad teams, yet the NMAA continues to deny any and all access to the Jemez Mountain Speech and Debate Team and will not even discuss it.
The sudden and negative impact on the Jemez students and their families has been devastating. The speech and debate students and their families are outraged that home school students have suddenly become targets of the NMAA, and further, they don’t understand how the NMAA can openly discriminate and deny equal access to NM students.
The parents’ position is that these teams are composed entirely of New Mexico students whose families pay New Mexico property taxes that fund public schools and public school infrastructure, and yet they are being denied the opportunity to participate with their peers in open academic competitions, competitions that in most cases are open even to out-of-state teams.
Further, the students, their families, and their communities find particular irony in the fact that they, as speech and debate students, have been excluded from Saturdays congressional debate event. Speech, they note, is a first amendment right, and the NMAA is actively curtailing that right in an event that is specifically designed to emulate our democratic process.
Prior to the beginning of each Congressional Debate event, students take an oath promising to uphold the Constitution, and yet the NMAA and its subsidiary organization, the NMSDA, is actively denying home school students the ability to speak and participate in a free exchange of ideas centered upon timely issues in our nation based solely on their choice of education modality.
“We believe that inclusion is a better choice and makes a better world. In the 21st century equal-access should be a shared value in New Mexico, not a topic of controversy. We will continue to pursue every avenue open to us to re-establish full and open home school student participation in New Mexico academic activities.
More teams means more learning, more critical thinking, more diversity, and stronger and healthier activities for all,” said long-time Jemez coach and 2014 NMSDA Speech Coach of the Year, Carolyn Connor.
The NMSDA State Speech and Debate Tournament will be held at Mayfield High School in Las Cruces February 25-27. The students hope that their appeal to the NM Public Education Department will yield a positive result, that once again their voices will be heard in the activity that they love, and that home school students will once again be included and have equal access to NM academic activities.
The Jemez Mountain Home School Speech and Debate Team is comprised of New Mexico home school students who wish to pursue public speaking, discourse, and debate as a curricular activity as part of their core educational program, as well as home school students who wish to participate in speech and debate as an extracurricular activity. Established almost 20 years ago, the team was one of the first home school speech and debate teams to be established in the nation, and it is currently the most successful and longest continuously existing home school team member of the National Speech and Debate Association (NSDA). The Jemez Mountain team established the first competitive team at the middle school level in New Mexico. The team boasts several NSDA National All-American (list of the top 150 students nationally) and Academic All-American alumni and has qualified 17 students to the NSDA National Tournament in a broad range of events including Congressional Debate, Lincoln Douglas Debate, Public Forum Debate, Original Oratory, Extemporaneous Speaking (both Domestic and International), Humorous Interpretation, and Dramatic Interpretation.