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Criminalizing disability: Special-needs kids who don’t get help in school are winding up in jail

May 10, 2019

NM Political Report (May 10)

Criminalizing disability: Special-needs kids who don’t get help in school are winding up in jail

It was right after the fifth-period bell last October that Sebastian Montano lay face down in the grass outside Alamogordo High School, screaming for his mother, as two police officers pinned him to the ground and thrust a Taser in his back. Moments earlier, a staff member had called police after learning that the 16-year-old, a special needs student who’d recently dropped out, was now trespassing on school grounds.

A shy teenager with light brown hair and big green eyes, Sebastian was well known to staff and students at Alamogordo High. He had a long and messy school history, including 16 documented run-ins with school police officers — all in relation to behaviors associated with his disabilities: autism spectrum disorder, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, PTSD, epilepsy, and ADHD.

But he was also a boy who showed great promise. He tested in the superior range in math and was considered something of a genius when it came to electronics. He understood the internal circuitry of complex gadgets with casual ease; his classmates would often hand him their broken smartphones to fix. When he was in seventh grade, he disassembled his mother’s laptop and melded it with the innards of an Xbox gaming console, creating his own portable gaming system.

With the right support, he might have been on his way to a career as an electrician or even an engineer. Instead, he was now another special needs student swept up in the school-to-prison pipeline.



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Last modified on 05/13/2019


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