Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Attorney General Hector Balderas and Rep. Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque, are all moving independently to rein in some of the most dangerous practices in New Mexico classrooms: restraint and seclusion. Each is pursuing separate initiatives to enforce stricter reporting requirements for incidents involving the controversial practices.
Their efforts follow an October 2019 Searchlight investigation revealing that New Mexico schools routinely restrain and seclude special education students, often in violation of state and federal law. The state’s largest school district, Albuquerque Public Schools, has restrained and secluded students well over 4,600 times since 2014, the investigation found. It also found that APS repeatedly filed misleading reports to the federal government, even taking the extraordinary step of refusing to provide records to parents whose children were restrained or secluded.
Often referred to as “therapeutic holding” or “physical management,” restraint is a contentious and dangerous method of behavior management derived from karate and judo, in which specially trained school staff place children and youth in physical holds that restrict movement. Seclusion, another behavior management practice, entails forcing a student into isolated rooms sometimes referred to as “scream rooms.”
Child psychologists have decried the practices as ineffective and traumatic — for both students and staff.
Some state lawmakers are ready to remove school districts’ discretion over how medical cannabis is administered to students who are medical cannabis patients.
The issue of how and when approved students can get their medicine has been divisive and controversial at times. But this year New Mexico became one of about a dozen states to allow some students to consume cannabis at school. Unlike other states, New Mexico’s law left some decisionmaking up to school districts. That local control has stirred additional controversy and caused some confusion amongst lawmakers. Some of those lawmakers say school districts abused that privilege.
State law allows districts to come up with their own policies for medical cannabis, including limitations on who administers the medical cannabis.
ALBUQUERQUE – Jamari Nelson likes action figures and video games – the “usual kid stuff,” as the 7-year-old put it. One of his favorite activities is making slime out of glue, laundry detergent, and other household chemicals. The kitchen cabinet is stocked with plastic baggies of his multicolored goop. “I sort of really recommend this one for stress and stuff,” he said, showing off a mustard-yellow slime the consistency of Silly Putty. He likes squeezing it, feeling it ooze between his fingers, stretching it until it becomes so thin that it melts.
ALBUQUERQUE — When Urijah Salazar arrived home from school on March 1, his mother immediately saw that something was off. A fourth-grade special education student at Montezuma Elementary, Urijah often came home from school upset, but on this day he seemed particularly rattled — shaking mad, detached, almost in a state of shock.
Nadia McGilbert drew a bath to help him relax, and as soon as he stepped into the tub she saw the injuries: a deep, avocado-shaped bruise on his forearm, scratches, apparently from sharp fingernails, on both arms.
“Oh my God,” she sputtered. “Is this what they did to you at school?”
Urijah nodded and said it hurt to breathe. McGilbert shut off the bath, told him to get dressed, and grabbed her car keys.
This story originally appeared at Searchlight New Mexico and is reprinted with permission. At UNM Hospital’s emergency room, doctors confirmed her worst suspicions.
Just before dawn, as the Albuquerque sky filled the house with thin, pale blue light, 16-year-old Aurra Gardner took the small handgun out from behind the bed in her mother’s bedroom. Kerianne Gardner, Aurra’s mother, sat in the living room, typing an email, listening idly as her other daughters tied their shoes and packed their lunches. She heard what sounded like a door slam and assumed it was Aurra’s cello case falling over. She walked down the hall and tried the door of the bedroom. It was locked.
ANTHONY — A tall chain-link fence splits the preschool campus behind Anthony Elementary in southern New Mexico: federally funded classrooms on one side, state-funded classrooms on the other. The fence serves as a literal and symbolic divide segregating two sets of classrooms outfitted with the same child-size tables, chairs and toys; two sets of highly trained teachers; two separate playgrounds — and a bitter competition for 4-year-old children. As New Mexico has expanded early education for toddlers over the past decade, the state has created a system that bars providers from mixing state and federal funds in the same classroom. It’s a policy – not a law – that effectively separates kids into rival programs, often divided by income. Head Start serves the lowest income families in New Mexico; the state programs serve families from a range of income levels.
A disgraced former Albuquerque Public Schools superintendent got a new job in education, this time in Oregon. Portland Public Schools hired Luis Valentino to help guide academic strategy on a three-month contract, according to The Oregonian. Valentino was expected to officially sign his contract Monday. Valentino resigned from APS just two months into his job, after NM Political Report revealed he hired an Assistant Superintendent, Jason Martinez, without conducting a background check. NM Political Report found out that Martinez was facing trial for four felonies related to sexual abuse of a child.
The state’s largest school district criticized new proposed science standards by the Public Education Department. The Albuquerque Public School board voted 5-1 to send a letter disapproving of the changes, which included removing specific references to increasing global temperatures and the Earth’s age, to the state Public Education Department. At issue are the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). So far, 18 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the 2013 standards. PED proposed adopting most of the standards—but with some key changes.
The federal government is investigating alleged discrimination by Albuquerque Public Schools against a student with a disability. The claim involves Michael Bruening, a 16-year-old autistic student who last saw an APS classroom in May 2015, according to his mother, Laura Gutierrez. The school district placed Bruening on homebound instruction, or education at home, but according to Gutierrez hasn’t done enough to support his educational development. Gutierrez, who said she does the bulk of instructing her son now, estimates he’s only attained education levels around the 6th or 7th grade. “I can’t teach him without him blowing up,” she said in a recent interview.
Embattled Albuquerque Public Schools board member Analee Maestas resigned Tuesday. Maestas is facing charges for alleged fraud and embezzlement from a charter school she founded. This comes two weeks after Attorney General Hector Balderas formally demanded that Maestas resign. “I am pleased that that she responded to our legal demand by resigning and our office will continue to use our legal resources to protect the school children of New Mexico,” Balderas said in a statement. The questions came after KRQE-TV looked into an alleged doctored receipt for a relatively small amount of money.