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Special needs students caught in school-to-jail pipeline


When it comes to the school-to-jail pipeline, students with special needs are at-risk of getting swept up regardless of the Individualized Educational Program, 504 plans or diagnosis, said Joan Curtiss, senior advocate for the Disability Rights New Mexico.

“I’m the parent of a young man who used to do dumb things like bring a pocket knife, a Buck knife, to school and you know what happens when that occurs,” Curtiss said. “He was a very bright guy. Come to find out he was beginning to come down with schizophrenia.”

Her son is an adult now and has severe paranoid schizophrenia.

“Talk about the justice system and the school-to-jail pipeline, people with disabilities are often getting themselves into serious trouble,” she said.

Curtiss has personally had to help her own son navigate the criminal justice system.

“It’s a nightmare,” Curtiss told a crowd during her workshop at the Native American Conference on Special Education Sept. 27.

The school-to-jail pipeline describes how students – especially students of color and those with special needs – are shuffled from schools into the criminal justice system.

“This comes from our New Mexico school board regulations saying that teachers are trained that it’s poor practice and discriminatory for school personnel to punish a student for behaviors that are a symptom of their disability,” she said. “You wouldn’t punish a student in a wheelchair for not being able to walk.

“The same is true for behavioral types of disabilities,” Curtiss said.

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About The Author

Pauly Denetclaw

Pauly Denetclaw is Meadow People born for Towering House People. She was raised in Manuelito and Naschitti, New Mexico. She was the co-recipient of the Native American Journalist Association's 2016 Richard LaCourse Award for Investigative Reporting. Denetclaw is currently finishing her degree in multimedia journalism from the University of New Mexico - Main. Denetclaw covers a range of topics including genetic research, education, health, social justice issues and small businesses. She loves coffee, writing and being with her family. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram. Her handle is @pdineclah