A group of Española School District teachers, educational assistants and security personnel attended a training Jan. 6 on children and adults with special needs conducted by the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office at Española Middle School.
Julie Ballinger of Southwest Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Center, a nonprofit advocating for the civil rights of those with special needs, led the training and told those in attendance she wanted to challenge their baseline assumptions of what is “normal.”
“The more we understand why we think what we think about children with disabilities, the more we can understand how to create equal and integrative access,” Ballinger said.
She started the training by requesting attendees to ask themselves about their assumptions about people with special needs and how it informs their interactions.
The training had been months in the making and came at the request of some Española School Board members following an incident last May at Española Valley High School, where a Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Deputy tased a student with special needs.
During the incident, a security guard employed by the District kept his knee on the student’s neck after the tasing.
In the following months, Board President Ruben Archuleta said he asked the Attorney General’s Office to provide training to prevent similar incidents in the future. Deputy Attorney General Tania Maestas told the Board in July her Office would offer multiple trainings.
District Safety and Security Manager Donald Lopez said, while his staff has received some training on special needs students, this training offered a new perspective.
He referenced a question by one security guard about what to do if student with special needs abruptly leaves their class or is acting out. Ballinger said it is important to remember what causes a student with special needs to act out.
“You’re seeing a reaction from a child who is constantly in an inaccessible environment,” she said.
Lopez said this will benefit his security guards’ interactions with students in the future.
“It’s a good awareness for realizing maybe why this person is leaving class or why this person is acting out,” he said. “This is a really different perspective.”
And it’s awareness that Ballinger said addresses a common issue.
“The most common misconception of children with disabilities is they act out due to disabilities, when they very well may be acting out because they are constantly living in an inaccessible environment,” she said.
Those inaccessible environments, she said, could be lack of facilities for those with physical impairments or placing students with emotional disabilities in an overstimulating environment.
Lopez said the District currently has no policy on how security guards should handle interactions with special needs students, but that a student’s individual education plan is taken into consideration.
“That’s something to look at,” he said of any new policies.
Ballinger also went over the services schools and districts must provide those with special needs, including auxiliary aids, modification of services and obtaining documentation during the process.
She said training is the best way to understand the various requirements of the ADA.
“The ADA’s here and it’s here to stay,” she said. “What the ADA really says is, ‘I get to do what you get to do most of the time, but not all the time.’ You have to go through the training to understand that.”
The Office also hosted trainings on preventing school violence and cyberbullying.