In many school districts in New Mexico, juveniles with disabilities are disproportionately referred to police, according to an analysis of federal data by an investigative reporting group.
At least 29 of the 44 school districts that referred students to police during the 2015-16 school year disproportionately referred students with disabilities, according to a Searchlight New Mexico analysis published in the Alamogordo Daily News.
The article refers to a 2016 study that found that 99.5% of juveniles in state detention facilities had at least one psychiatric diagnosis. Only a third had received special education services in school, according to Dr. Andrew Hsi, lead author of the study by the New Mexico Sentencing Commission and a pediatrician at the University of New Mexico.
“Most of these kids have had a pattern of difficulty for years,” Hsi told Searchlight New Mexico. “The system and people around them failed to intervene when they were younger and more amenable to help. Where they are now is a product of societal neglect.”
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act gives children with disabilities the right to a free and appropriate public education. Schools are required to create individualized education programs to ensure that students with disabilities have supports to help them in their education.
But that didn’t happen in the case of Sebastian Montano, who was arrested in Alamogordo for trespassing on school grounds after dropping out. Montano had autism spectrum disorder, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, epilepsy and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. School officials should have provided a behavioral intervention plan, the article says.
“School personnel instead referred Sebastian to law enforcement time and again,” the article reported, “even summoning the police when his behavior clearly called for intervention from a mental health professional. When he threatened to kill himself, the middle school counselor called police. When he cut himself intentionally, the assistant principal called police.”