DOJ looking into ABQ ‘school to prison pipeline’

The federal Department of Justice is considering an investigation into Albuquerque’s juvenile justice system. This comes according to a letter the agency wrote to U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham last month. The letter, signed by Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta on Aug. 4, refers to a complaint made by Laura Bruening, the mother of […]

DOJ looking into ABQ ‘school to prison pipeline’

The federal Department of Justice is considering an investigation into Albuquerque’s juvenile justice system.

Seal_of_the_United_States_Department_of_Justice.svgThis comes according to a letter the agency wrote to U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham last month.

The letter, signed by Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta on Aug. 4, refers to a complaint made by Laura Bruening, the mother of a teen with autism enrolled in Albuquerque Public Schools.

Gupta writes that Bruening alleges APS is discriminating against special education students by “funnelling children with disabilities into the juvenile justice system.” Bruening, according to the letter, also alleges that school officials have retaliated against parents for complaining about treatment of their children and that school officials “operate without appropriate protocols, out of their jurisdiction, and [through] an inappropriate relationship with the Albuquerque Police Department.”

Gupta, in the letter, also thanks Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., for providing information about Bruening’s case and mentions that it “is important to us as we continue our work with APD”—referring to the five-year reform plan the federal government instituted on the troubled police department. The reform plan came after a DOJ investigation found systemic unconstitutional policing by the department.

“We will consider the information provided by Ms. Bruenig [sic], along with other information we may receive from others, to determine whether a pattern or practice investigation is warranted in regards to the juvenile justice system in Albuquerque,” Gupta writes.

Bruening declined to speak about the letter, stating that she didn’t want to comment prematurely on any potential federal investigation.

Her name, however, has come up in news headlines over the years for her son’s treatment in the school system.

Last fall, Bruening alleged that school police tased her son at Jimmy Carter Middle School. APS opened an internal investigation into the incident.. This wasn’t the first time she spoke of alleged mistreatment of her son.

Bruening spoke of another incident to the Santa Fe Reporter earlier that year:

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.”

A spokesman for Lujan Grisham, Gilbert Gallegos, said that when Bruening came to her office with concerns, they referred her to the federal Department of Education, which in turn referred the matter to the Department of Justice.

Gallegos stressed that his office is neutral in the matter and treated Bruening as it would have treated any other constituent.

Head in HandsAPS spokesman Rigo Chavez said no one he spoke to at the school district Monday had seen the letter or received any material from the DOJ.

Premature though it may be, the DOJ letter speaks to the large, complicated issue of what many are calling the “school to prison pipeline” of special needs students.

To Tara Ford, an attorney with Pegasus Legal Services for Children, challenging behavior from students with disabilities is “a sign that the school environment isn’t working.”

Ford said schools haven’t invested in enough resources to help students with disabilities, which in turn can lead them to the juvenile justice system.

“What we have seen in our work with students and families is that when professionals do not have the skills necessary to help a student, they often blame the student and resort to punitive approaches such as physical restraint, school discipline or defaulting to law enforcement,” Ford said. “Our delinquency system ultimately ends up becoming the mental health and the school system for these children. And by then we have failed.”

While APS mandates training on restraint to roughly 1,000 employees who work with special needs students, Albuquerque attorney Gail Stewart said that training on evidence-based methods like Applied Behavioral Analysis for students with autism remains less available locally.

The lack of training makes it easy for teachers to file police reports when special needs students act violent.

“They make choices sometimes because they don’t know what else to do,” Stewart said, noting that this problem is traced to choices from “the very top” of school district personnel.

The problem isn’t limited to New Mexico.

A 2011 study from the National Council on Disability found that 85 percent of incarcerated juveniles have disabilities that would qualify them for special education. Just 37 percent of them received school services, according to the same study.

Read the DOJ letter below:

DOJ Letter.pdf by New Mexico Political Report

We're ad free

That means that we rely on support from readers like you. Help us keep reporting on the most important New Mexico Stories by donating today.

Related

Emily’s List endorses seven candidates for Legislature

Emily’s List endorses seven candidates for Legislature

Emily’s List, a nonprofit that supports women candidates and reproductive rights, endorsed seven incumbents facing general election opponents in New Mexico legislative elections. All…
Equality New Mexico endorses 15 legislative candidates

Equality New Mexico endorses 15 legislative candidates

A New Mexico-based LGBTQ rights organization endorsed 15 candidates for state House and Senate seats for the 2024 elections.  Marshall Martinez, executive director of…
Lujan Grisham pocket vetoes two bills

Lujan Grisham pocket vetoes two bills

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham pocket vetoed two bills the legislature passed this legislative session: one changing the Cybersecurity Act and the other concerning law…
BLM increases what companies must pay to extract oil and gas 

BLM increases what companies must pay to extract oil and gas 

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management announced a new rule Friday governing onshore oil and gas production that advocacy groups say will help protect…
Court hears arguments in oil and gas pollution case

Court hears arguments in oil and gas pollution case

A district court judge heard arguments Friday about whether to dismiss a lawsuit that could have major implications for the oil and gas industry…
Feds announce final renewable energy rule for public lands

Feds announce final renewable energy rule for public lands

The U.S. Department of the Interior announced a final renewable energy rule Thursday that is expected to pave the way for increased wind, solar…
Amid new graduation requirements, what do high schoolers want to learn?

Amid new graduation requirements, what do high schoolers want to learn?

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican The main things that bring Brayan Chavez to school every day: Seeing, talking to and engaging with…
Special ed teachers hope lawmakers OK pay raises, admin changes

Special ed teachers hope lawmakers OK pay raises, admin changes

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican Brittany Behenna Griffith has a laundry list of adjectives to describe the ideal special education teacher:…
Lawmakers must find consensus on competing education spending plans

Lawmakers must find consensus on competing education spending plans

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican A challenging task awaits New Mexico lawmakers in the next 30 days: Reconciling three very different…
Health workers fear it’s profits before protection as CDC revisits airborne transmission

Health workers fear it’s profits before protection as CDC revisits airborne transmission

Amy Maxmen, KFF Health News Four years after hospitals in New York City overflowed with covid-19 patients, emergency physician Sonya Stokes remains shaken by…
Lujan Grisham, Biden admin announce $10 million in federal funds for tribes, pueblos

Lujan Grisham, Biden admin announce $10 million in federal funds for tribes, pueblos

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced Friday $10 million in funding from the federal American Rescue Plan Act was awarded to six tribal nations and…
Proposal to curb executive powers moves to House Judiciary

Proposal to curb executive powers moves to House Judiciary

The House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee discussed a potential constitutional amendment that seeks to limit the governor’s executive powers. The committee approved…
How the AZ Supreme Court decision on abortion impacts New Mexico

How the AZ Supreme Court decision on abortion impacts New Mexico

The Arizona Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that an 1864 abortion ban is enforceable, throwing another state bordering New Mexico into the situation of…
The status of the lawsuit New Mexico joined to remove FDA restrictions to mifepristone

The status of the lawsuit New Mexico joined to remove FDA restrictions to mifepristone

While the U.S. Supreme Court considers the future of access to the abortion medication, mifepristone, another lawsuit against the FDA that would expand access…
Senators introduce legislation to aid abortion providers

Senators introduce legislation to aid abortion providers

Sen. Martin Heinrih and other Senate colleagues introduced abortion rights legislation into the U.S. Senate on Thursday. The Abortion Care Capacity Enhancement and Support…
How the AZ Supreme Court decision on abortion impacts New Mexico

How the AZ Supreme Court decision on abortion impacts New Mexico

The Arizona Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that an 1864 abortion ban is enforceable, throwing another state bordering New Mexico into the situation of…
The status of the lawsuit New Mexico joined to remove FDA restrictions to mifepristone

The status of the lawsuit New Mexico joined to remove FDA restrictions to mifepristone

While the U.S. Supreme Court considers the future of access to the abortion medication, mifepristone, another lawsuit against the FDA that would expand access…
Senators introduce legislation to aid abortion providers

Senators introduce legislation to aid abortion providers

Sen. Martin Heinrih and other Senate colleagues introduced abortion rights legislation into the U.S. Senate on Thursday. The Abortion Care Capacity Enhancement and Support…
Politics Newsletter: Early and absentee voting

Politics Newsletter: Early and absentee voting

Good morning fellow political junkies! Early and absentee voting for the June 4 New Mexico primary begins in about a month. The nonprofit election…
San Juan County, Navajo Nation settle redistricting case

San Juan County, Navajo Nation settle redistricting case

The Navajo Nation and San Juan County reached an agreement Monday about commission districts after the tribe alleged that its members were not adequately…
MIT ranks NM elections most well-run in the U.S.

MIT ranks NM elections most well-run in the U.S.

New Mexico’s 2022 election was ranked most well-run in the country by Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Election Data and Science Lab’s Elections Performance Index.…
BLM increases what companies must pay to extract oil and gas 

BLM increases what companies must pay to extract oil and gas 

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management announced a new rule Friday governing onshore oil and gas production that advocacy groups say will help protect…
What the low unemployment rates for months means for NM’s economy

What the low unemployment rates for months means for NM’s economy

Post-pandemic, New Mexico has had an extended run of low unemployment rates. New Mexico’s unemployment rate has remained stable at 4.0 percent since October…
Feds announce final renewable energy rule for public lands

Feds announce final renewable energy rule for public lands

The U.S. Department of the Interior announced a final renewable energy rule Thursday that is expected to pave the way for increased wind, solar…

GET INVOLVED

© 2023 New Mexico Political Report