When Valentin Anaya noticed his son had a fondness for music, he enrolled the high school student in a music class at Socorro High, only to find that the boy had been absent almost 40 times in the middle of the first semester.
Valentin “Gogo” Anaya, a junior, has autism, and his father said he did not respond verbally to the call, so the teachers did not mark him as present.
“It was very difficult to get her proper services,” Elder Anaya said in a recent interview. “In Socorro, even though we’re only 120 km from Albuquerque, it’s like Siberia because we don’t have the kind of resources the city has in terms of personnel or training.”
Parents hope complications like these in New Mexico public school classrooms will become less common with the opening of the Ombud’s Office for Special Education.
The New Mexico Developmental Disorders Council, a council two-thirds of its members with developmental disabilities, opened office Wednesday after a bill was passed in the 2021 regular legislative session that provided for funding of $ 250,000 for the hiring of a mediator. The role is to advocate and mediate between parents and schools on special education.
Michelle Tregembo, former vice principal of Volcano Vista High School, was appointed ombudsman by the board – on which Anaya sits as a family member – in June, and in an interview last week she said she was receiving already calls from families and educators.
Tregembo has worked in special education in New Mexico for 25 years. A key concern on the ground is the lack of retention and hiring, made worse by the pandemic, she said.
Even students with disabilities who share a diagnosis “don’t have the same behaviors or needs,” which is why schools need more teachers and teaching assistants trained in special education, she said.
An analysis by New Mexico State University in September showed that nearly 300 special education teaching positions statewide remained vacant at the start of the school year, representing 28% of all vacancies this fall. The state also saw 280 vacancies for special education assistants.
“I want [parents] to know that they have someone in their corner, ”Tregembo said. “We will also provide systemic support. “
Tregembo’s role will be to attend individualized education plan meetings, investigate complaints, and help decipher state and federal laws surrounding special education rights.
The new office will also collect data to better identify areas of special education that need revision in different districts.
New Mexico Developmental Disorders Board Director Alice Liu McCoy said the request for help with special education issues will likely exceed the office’s capacity and require more funding from the state to the to come up.
The council has high hopes of recruiting regional directors, hiring more staff and training volunteers so that there is an advocate in each district, McCoy said.
“Absolutely one person is not enough,” McCoy said. “We have a lot of advocacy organizations that have done this work across the state in different areas. But no one has tried to be there statewide.”
In 2018, the late Justice Sarah Singleton ruled that the state was failing in its obligations to certain groups of students to provide adequate education, including students with disabilities.
In 2020, students with disabilities made up 15% of state graduates and they had the lowest graduation rate of any group at 66.4%, according to data from the Department of Public Education.
McCoy said having a statewide ombudsperson could be essential in helping schools and the public education department meet their responsibilities.
Elder Anaya said, “What excites me the most is that there will be answers for the parents who live in Magdalena, who live in the small communities across the state.”