News and Events

New Mexico’s New Anti-Bullying Legislation to Protect LGBTQ Youth

Sarah Marshment

The New Mexico legislature recently passed Senate Bill 288, also known as the Safe Schools for All Students Act. This anti-bullying legislation requires districts to implement a variety of measures to address bullying in schools. Notably, the bill offers explicit protection to LGBTQ students by requiring districts to address bullying based on gender identity and sexual orientation. GLSEN, a leading organization addressing safe and inclusive schools for LGBTQ students, issued a statement praising the passage of the bill. According to GLSEN, New Mexico is the nineteenth state, along with Washington DC, to have comprehensive anti-bullying legislation that is inclusive of LGBTQ youth.

The bill requires districts to adopt policies to prevent bullying, including cyberbullying and bullying taking place at school-sponsored events or on transportation. These policies must include statements prohibiting both bullying and retaliation against those who report bullying incidents. The policies must also include consequences for bullying offenses, and these consequences must be flexible enough to apply on a case-by-case basis.

The provisions of the bill are extensive. While this is a concrete step towards providing safe, inclusive schools for LGBTQ youth, it remains to be seen whether or not the bill contains effective mechanisms to ensure enforcement. The bill goes into effect on July 1, 2019, and school districts are required to implement these changes by January 1, 2020.

NEW MEXICO NAMED 50th in KIDS COUNT REPORT

Yarrow Allaire

 

New Mexico can be a tough place to be a kid. For the last five years, Kids Count, the national survey on the well-being of children across the United States has ranked New Mexico as either 49th or 50th in the country for overall child well-being. Kids Count just released their comprehensive survey of the status of children for 2019, and again, New Mexico came in last place compared to all other states. With 34,552 more children in the state compared to 1990, the eight percent growth in population of young people leaves New Mexico with 488, 090 kids to take care of. We will all benefit when every single child in the state of New Mexico has the high quality of life that we would hope for our own child.

Systemic racism and inequities are mapped across the Kids Count data for both the United States and the State of New Mexico. For Black people, Indigenous people, Hispanic and Latinx identifying families, and families who are immigrants to this country, the racism is woven into the fabric of this country exercises itself in all areas measured by Kids Count, leaving these children fairing worse than their white counterparts. This is of particular importance to this State since Indigenous people make up 8.8% of our population, and New Mexico is one of two states (California being the other) where, since 1990, the majority of children in our State are now Latino.

The four domains that the 2019 Kids Count Data of Economic Well-Being, Education, Health, and Family and Community, the 2019 Kids Count Data Book paints a statistical picture for children in the State of New Mexico.

Economic Well-Being

 Using the indicators of the number of children in poverty, children whose parents lack secure employment, children living in households with a high cost burden, and teens not in school and not working, Kids Count seeks to measure the effects of poverty on New Mexico families. In New Mexico, all four indicators have improved slightly since 2010, with 27% of our children living in poverty, 36% of children whose parents are lacking secure employment, 28% of children living in households with high housing cost burdens, and 10% of our teens not in school and not working. In our State, these indicators have either improved slightly since 2009, or stayed the same. The combination of these four factors places New Mexico 49th compared to the rest of the country.

Education

Education is one of the foundations for a high quality of life, but unfortunately in New Mexico, we still are struggling to make sure our students are progressing though grades K-12 with minimum levels of proficiency in reading and math and are graduating on time. Kids Count uses the indicators of children (ages 3 and 4) not in school, fourth-graders not proficient in reading, eight-graders not proficient in math, and high school students not graduating on time to create a snap shot of the educational landscape in each state. In our State, these indicators have either improved slightly since 2009, or stayed the same. 56% of our young children are not attending school, 75% of fourth-graders are not proficient in reading, 80% of eight-graders are not proficient in math (a statistic which has stayed the same since 2009), and 29% of high school students do not graduate on time in the State of New Mexico. According to Kids Count, New Mexico ranks the worst in the Nation for educational outcomes for children.

Health

Making sure children are healthy enough to attend school, have access to insurance and doctors, are not abusing drugs and alcohol, and are not dying is fundamental to quality of life for young people in New Mexico. To measure health outcomes for each state, Kids Count looks at the percentages of low birth-weight babies born, children without health insurance, child and teen deaths per 100,000, and teens who abuse alcohol or drugs. For these categories, New Mexico is 48th compared to other states with 9.5% of babies being born underweight (a number that has increased since 2010), 5% of children lacking health insurance, 32 child deaths per 100,000, and 6% of teens measured who abuses drugs and alcohol.

Family and Community

The final set of indicators that Kids Count uses attempts to measure and quantify the adult resources that children have in their lives. In this area, New Mexico ranks 50th when compared to all other states. In New Mexico, 45% of children live in single-parent families, 16% of children live in families where the household head lacks a high school diploma, 24% of children live in high-poverty areas (an increase since 2008), and there are 28 teen births per 1,000.

The work of improving the lives of New Mexico kids is one that every single person in this State has a responsibility to participate in, with a particular and important burden placed on elected officials, the wealthy, and the privileged. At Pegasus Legal Services for Children, we work to do our part to improve lives of New Mexico kids with particular interest in direct advocacy for school discipline issues in order to reduce the time that kids spend in suspension with the intention of reducing the effects of the school to prison pipeline. Additionally, the direct representation of youth up to the age of 19 by the Pegasus Youth Law Project attempts to address the legal needs and rights of teenagers in such a way that they are empowered to transition to adulthood, whether it be as young parents, from foster care, or in relationship to medical decisions, with as much support as possible. Finally, by providing kinship guardianship legal services to grandparents and other caregivers, Pegasus works to provide stable homes and communities for the children of this State.

Further breakdowns of Kids Count data by state, race and ethnicity, region, and many other factors can be found at https://datacenter.kidscount.org/.

Good news for trans and nonbinary New Mexicans seeking to change their name and gender-markers


Helen Lockett

Transgender rights have rocketed into public awareness over the last couple of years, with highly publicized, nationwide debates surrounding everything from the targeting and abuse of transgender immigrants in detention, to bathrooms and the right of transgender people to “pee in peace”. Here in New Mexico, there’s some good news. The Gender-Free Restrooms Act becomes effective on July 1st, 2019, requiring single-occupancy stalls to be made accessible regardless of gender identity. And at the end of March, Governor Lujan Grisham signed a new law enabling New Mexicans to change their gender designation to “non-binary” on their birth certificates with an X, instead of with an M or an F—a law that came into effect on June 15th, 2019. There’s more: no longer do transgender people need to show proof of surgery to change their name or gender marker. That means that following the passage of SB0020, trans people need only provide the court order and a physician’s note stating that they “have had clinically appropriate treatment” to correct their birth certificate—no surgery required.

Gender confirmation surgery is invasive, lengthy, and can cost anything up to $100,000—or even more. Many trans individuals don’t want to go through this process, and for many transgender minors, surgery isn’t even an option, as few doctors are willing to perform these kinds of surgeries on someone under the age of 18, if at all. With this change in the law, transgender and nonbinary youth can see their gender identity reflected on their birth certificates without needing to commit to surgery first; a form of validation that can have a practical impact from the outset, giving them access to sports clubs and other organizations that require an updated birth certificate for trans people to participate in activities divided along gender lines.

There’s still a long way to go. Transgender and nonbinary folks face a disproportionately high risk of police violence, incarceration, housing and employment discrimination, and sexual abuse and other violence. We’d like to see the requirement for a physician’s declaration removed altogether to allow trans and nonbinary folks to change their name and gender-markers with a self-attestation. But with this law, New Mexico is taking steps in the right direction.

NEW MEXICO PUBLIC EDUCATION DEPARTMENT ORDERS ALBUQUERQUE PUBLIC SCHOOLS TO REFORM POLICIES AND PRACTICES FOR DISCIPLINING CHILDREN WITH DISABILITIES

Contact:
Jerri Katzerman, 505.244.1101, jerri@pegasuslaw.org
Matthew Bernstein, 505.244.1101, mbernstein@pegasuslaw.org

The New Mexico Public Education Department (“NMPED”) issued last week a 24-page report documenting the results of its investigation into Albuquerque Public Schools’ (“APS”) policies and practices when disciplining children with disabilities.

The report follows a systemic complaint filed on behalf of class of children with disabilities and their advocates by Pegasus Legal Services for Children and Disability Rights New Mexico. That complaint alleged that APS subjects children with disabilities to disciplinary proceedings without regard for whether the disability played a role in the conduct. This practice violates both federal and state law and exposes children with disabilities to a harsh and punitive process for conduct that they cannot help.

For the children involved, this means that they must face the full brunt of a quasi-judicial proceeding and lose weeks of educational services for disability-related conduct.

The NMPED agreed. The NMPED conducted a two-month long investigation, identified 92 student/class members, reviewed dozens of files and hundreds of pages of documents, and retained the services of an independent consultant to analyze the data collected.

Following its investigation, the NMPED concluded, among other findings, that APS committed a “substantive and serious violation” of the law. To correct its failings, APS must develop, implement, and widely publish new disciplinary policies and procedures, train its staff in best practices, and inform class members of its new policies and procedures and of their right to seek legal remedies.

Families interested in learning more about their rights are encouraged to call Pegasus Legal Services at 505.244.1101 or Disability Rights New Mexico at 505.256.3100.

Pegasus Statement on MDR Complaint

Yazzie-Martinez Lawsuit Addresses Public Education Disparities Across the State of New Mexico

Melanie McNett

The education clause of the New Mexico Constitution guarantees a “uniform system of free public schools sufficient for the education of, and open to, all the children of school age…” NM Const. Art. XII, § 1. This charges the state’s legislative and executive branches with creating and enforcing laws that promote adequate public schooling for children throughout the state. Until recently, the clause had never been interpreted to determine what “uniform” and “sufficient” schooling actually entails, or whether that right is being adequately fulfilled. That changed in 2014 when the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed a lawsuit alleging that the state has been neglecting this constitutional obligation, particularly with respect to students who are low-income, Native American, English language learners, or students with disabilities. Citing student outcomes such as low reading and math proficiencies and low graduation rates, the civil rights groups argued that unconstitutional disparities between school districts can be attributed to inadequate programming, services, staffing, and funding.

After a lengthy trial, a judge for the First Judicial District Court held for the plaintiffs, finding that the education clause of the state constitution is not being met within the state’s current system. Holding that New Mexico children have a right to be college and career ready, which includes quality pre-K and linguistically and culturally appropriate educational programming and services, the judge ordered that the state take “immediate steps” to rectify these problems. Additionally, the court emphasized that a lack of funding is not an excuse for neglecting students who are low-income, Native American, English language learners, or students with disabilities. Since then, New Mexico public schools have received a 17% funding increase from the legislature to address these deficiencies. Attorneys for the plaintiffs have expressed concerns over the state’s plan to use the money toward pay raises for teachers and administrators, rather toward services and programming for students. In any case, this landmark victory is driving important conversations about the quality of education across the state and will likely have lasting effects on New Mexico’s students.