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Searchlight New Mexico is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization dedicated to investigative reporting and innovative data journalism.

In a landscape of shrinking media resources, our mission is to focus high-impact journalism on topics of local, regional and national interest in order to allow the public to see into the remote recesses of government and to expose abuses of power.

We believe great reporting empowers people to demand honest, effective public policy and to seek appropriate remedies.

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Searchligt New Mexico Magazine
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© 2019 Searchlight New Mexico.  |  All rights reserved. For republishing terms, see Guidelines. 

Images by Don Usner

INDEPENDENT INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM

Criminalizing Disability

Investigating ​Special Education in New Mexico

Throughout 2019, Searchlight New Mexico reporters worked with hundreds of parents—conducting interviews, holding listening sessions, collecting and analyzing student education records—to investigate the state of special education. The overwhelming theme: children are not receiving legally-required disability services in school, and instead face disproportionate discipline, often ending up swept into the criminal justice system.

 

The following series is a result of that year-long investigation. Each story represents one of the four most common experiences described by parents.

By Ike Swetlitz

Jamari Nelson's mother pulled him out of his first-grade class at a public school in Albuquerque after he was screened in a "threat-assessment." Nelson, who is diagnosed with autism, is one of many children in special education swept up into a system originally intended to identify those who might commit mass-violence. 

In New Mexico, reports of child abuse or neglect are routinely referred to law enforcement, regardless of whether CYFD believes the allegation to be true or false.

With no system in place to track and prosecute malicious calls, those who make such reports rarely face any consequence. But their action comes with a price.

On October 14, Searchlight New Mexico held a public forum on our investigations’ findings. The event was held in partnership with University of New Mexico Law School and featured our stories’ sources, parents, teachers, policymakers, and world-renowned classroom behavior expert Ross Greene. You can view a video of that event here.