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Mother Seeks To Keep Special Needs Students Out Of Justice System

A senate memorial would establish a task force to come up with a comprehensive strategy to educate children who have been 'suspended, expelled or detained.'

February 13, 2014, 1:00 pm
By Joey Peters

 Laura Bruening recently had to convince juvenile probation that her son didn't belong there.

This came after her son, who's autistic and attends Albuquerque Public Schools, almost got arrested after having a meltdown on the playground during recess.

"They tried to detain him," Bruening, an Albuquerque resident, tells SFR. "He's been restrained probably at least a couple of hundred times in his life, so he’s going to flail."

When school officials restrained her son, he scratched at them. The school ended up calling the police and reporting the incident to juvenile probation. But Bruening says that before the incident, her son's doctor wrote several letters to the school telling them that he "needed an adjustment in program."

"[The doctor] explained to them that [my son] needed a one-on-one program," Bruening says. "They didn't listen."

Perhaps more troubling is Bruening's son's likelihood of missing out on key class time if he were put on juvenile probation.

A senate memorial in the Legislature could help special needs children like Bruening's son avoid the justice system. Bruening, a 37-year-old mother and full-time University of New Mexico student, helped write the memorial, which is being sponsored by state Sen. Bill O'Neill, D-Bernalillo. It would establish a task force that would come up with a strategy so children "who have been suspended, expelled or detained in juvenile or criminal justice systems" don't miss out on their education. 

"Kids with autism and kids that have no business in the juvenile justice system end up there because they’re expelled and one thing leads to another and it’s a chain reaction," O'Neill says.

Similar bills have been tried before. Three years ago, state Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Bernalillo, sponsored legislation that would have defined alternatives to school suspension and long-term expulsions "except where those alternatives would pose a substantial threat to school safety." The bill passed both chambers but was pocket-vetoed by Gov. Susana Martinez. 

This year the idea comes in a senate memorial, which wouldn't require enforcement from the governor if passed, because the legislature is in a 30-day budget-only session and Martinez makes the call on whether bills are germane or not. 

The idea, O'Neill says, is to establish a task force to come up with standards and funding that would be added in a bill next year when the legislature takes on a 60-day general session.

The memorial, SM 69, passed unanimously in the Senate Rules Committee earlier today. Read it below:

SM069
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To print the document, click the "Original Document" link to open the original PDF. At this time it is not possible to print the document with annotations.

 

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