State studies habitual truancy in public schools

From the Santa Fe New Mexican - Nearly one in seven public-school students in New Mexico was considered habitually truant last year — meaning he or she accumulated at least 10 days of unexcused absences according to a new report, “Truancy in New Mexico: Attendance Matters.”
The report, prepared by Peter Winograd, Angelo Gonzales and Jason Timm of The University of New Mexico Center for Education Policy Research, was presented to members of the Legislative Education Study Committee at the Capitol on Tuesday afternoon. “It’s a problem across the state,” Winograd said, noting that high school truancy rates in some regions of the state are “stunning.”
The report noted that 51,034 of the roughly 338,220 students — about 15 percent — were habitually truant last year. And if they aren’t in school, Winograd said, “our kids are getting in trouble.”
Though Winograd’s presentation Tuesday focused mostly on Albuquerque and Las Cruces truancy rates, the report does include the truancy rates for Santa Fe Public Schools: Some 19 percent of elementary and middle school students are habitually truant, while more than 32 percent of high school students are habitually truant.
According to Santa Fe Public Schools accountability data, the district’s average rate of habitual truancy is about 24.6 percent. Santa Fe Public Schools’ graduation rate hovers around 56.5 percent. Winograd noted that many habitually truant young people simply stop coming to school and thus do not graduate, a point echoed by Kris Meurer, executive director for Albuquerque Public Schools’ Student, Family and Community Support Department. She told the committee, “If I’ve been out seven days and find out I’m going to flunk anyway, why would I stay?”
According to state statutes governing truancy policies, the state Public Education Department reviews and approves all district and charter-school truancy policies. Schools are supposed to maintain policies that provide for early identification and intervention for truants, with schools then giving written notices to parents that includes a time and place for parents and school officials to meet to halt the problem.
But that rarely happens in Bernalillo, according to Valerie Lopez, juvenile probation supervisor for the Prevention and Intervention Unit of the state Children, Youth and Families Department in that county. She said the general public probably believes that many of these truancy cases go to court, but in her eight years of experience, she’s only seen one make it that far.
When Rep. Ray Begaye, D-Shiprock, asked Lopez if laws couldn’t be passed to fine parents or perhaps halt their food stamps if they are responsible for their children’s truant behavior, Lopez said, “The short answer is yes. The kind answer is no.” Read more

When they really enjoy the very best fatalities

Commentary by Michael Swickard, Ph.D. Years ago while talking to his mother I noticed a six years old with an innocent angelic face looking at a sales catalog. His birthday was coming up so I asked him, “Do you see something you want for your birthday?”
He looked up and smiled broadly. “Yes,” he said, “I want this video game.” From the description in the catalog, I was a little surprised that it was an extremely violent game. So I asked him, “Why this game?”
He smiled again, “It has the very best fatalities.”
“Excuse me?” Darn earwax, I must have heard wrong.
“This game has the very best fatalities,” he repeated.
His mother did not pay the slightest attention so I asked, “What are fatalities?” He looked up and said, “When people die.”
“What makes them the very best fatalities?”
He broke into a grin. “That is when the blood spurts out and their bones show and the skin burns off while they die.”
His mother gave me the look, “boys will be boys.” Later I asked her if she thought it was good that a six-year-old wants a game featuring death. She told me most young kids feel the same which is why there are so many violent games on the market.
I persisted, “That begs the question. It does not matter that they like it, my question is if it is good for them.”
There has been much concern about violence in our society. Some people think the violence is caused by a lack of communication. I believe we have so much violence because many Americans like violence. The enjoyment of violence, for itself, is a product of the American entertainment industry.
Violence in America is promulgated by those people who find violence enjoyable. Much of the violence in America happens because the perpetrator simply felt like hurting someone. Guns and knives are not the cause; rather, the source is the sickness of enjoyed violence within our society. Read full column

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Miss Las Cruces arrested for DWI
Raptor Center out of money
Gov. aims to crackdown on DWI
Questa school board still suspended 


Questa school board suspension continues

The Questa School Board is still in time out. On Monday, the secretary-designate of the New Mexico Public Education Department, Hanna Skandera, ruled the board – which has essentially rendered itself paralyzed by infighting – has been suspended until new members are sworn in after a school board election scheduled in February. 

The board has been consistently stuck in a 3-3 voting split that has prevented the district from conducting business.
 In an 8-page decision, Skandera ruled that after a hearing last week looking into the feuding board members, ”a preponderance of evidence” showed “the behavior of the members of the Board exceeded the powers and duties granted” to local school boards. 
Skandera also noted that during the public comment period during the hearing that “the citizens of the community overwhelmingly requested that the suspension” remain intact until the school board election. 
Members of the Questa School Board has been exchanging insults, charges and counter-charges to such a degree that it’s reminiscent of the antics of the city council in Sunland Park, a border town in southern New Mexico that’s made national headlines for political infighting and criminal charges. 
Even an investigative hearing leading up to Monday’s ruling by Skandera was spiked with disagreement.


Miss Las Cruces arrested for DWI

Sarah Richardson
A woman recently named Miss Las Cruces has been arrested on suspicion of aggravated DWI.

Las Cruces police say 22-year-old Sarah J. Richardson was taken into custody after her car struck a light pole Sunday night. The Las Cruces Sun-News reports that Richardson was booked early Monday into the Dona Ana County Detention Center
Authorities say she's facing charges of aggravated DWI - blood alcohol content of .16 or greater - and failure to exercise due care. Richardson, from Alamogordo, posted bond and was released after being jailed for about an hour. It wasn't immediately clear Monday night if she had an attorney. 
A spokeswoman for the Miss Las Cruces pageant, which is a preliminary for the Miss America competition, declined comment on any potential sanctions Richardson could face.


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Gov. cracks down on DWI
Artesia adds "In God We Trust" to logo
Belen teen threatens school shooting



Gov. aims to crackdown on DWI

New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez is on a crusade to toughen New Mexico's drunk driving penalties. 
She's getting help from a Colorado couple who have a deeply personal reason to get involved. Aileen and Zachary Smith of Colorado Springs lost their unborn baby son Dimitri last June when a suspected drunk driver slammed into their car on I-25 in San Miguel County
On Monday they met with Gov. Martinez at the Capitol to talk about her DWI proposals for the upcoming legislative session, and about the Smiths' own ideas about better ways to crack down on drunk drivers in our state. 
The Smiths started a website called "Justice for Dimitri" and so far they have gathered nearly 3,000 signatures on their online petition to reform New Mexico's drunk driving laws. 
Martinez is also pushing for felony DWIs to count toward habitual offender status, and for the state to have the power to seize the vehicles of people arrested for driving on a license that was revoked for drunk driving. 


Belen school shooting threat

Belen authorities say a high school freshman will face charges after making a chilling threat to shoot up the school on Tuesday.

 Investigators say the student scratched a message into a school mirror that said he planned to shoot 12 kids on Tuesday. Other students say they overheard the student making threats against the school. 
The police chief says officers interviewed the freshman, searched his locker, then his home, and did not find any evidence that makes them think the threat is legitimate. But he added that they're taking the threat as seriously as possible.
 The student has been suspended and will face charges. The police chief said there will be a large police presence at the school throughout the day.


Drug trafficking ring indicted

Nineteen members of a drug trafficking organization allegedly operating in central and northern New Mexico have been indicted. 

The 60-count indictment was unsealed Monday following the arrests of 13 of the defendants. They all made their initial appearances in federal court in Albuquerque.
 Authorities say the drug trafficking organization allegedly was headed by 33-year-old Christopher Roybal of Albuquerque
According to the indictment, Roybal and others allegedly conspired to distribute quantities of marijuana and cocaine in New Mexico over the last 16 months. 
Undercover officers purchased 3½ kilograms of cocaine and about 18 pounds of high-grade marijuana that led to the arrests.


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Gov. comments on gun control
Las Cruces impact fees delayed
19 indicted in drug ring


Las Cruces impact fees delayed

Impact fees for city infrastructure in Las Cruces won’t be implemented for at least another six months. 

The Las Cruces city council voted Monday 6-0 to delay implementing the fees that would pay for major road and drainage construction until July 1. The fees would be applied to any new commercial or residential development in the city. The city council voted to defer those fees until July 1. 
For a new residential house, the fee would be around $1000 or closer to $2000 depending on who you ask. The impact fee would have also applied to new commercial development. 


Gov. says keep guns away from mentally ill

Gov. Susana Martinez said New Mexico should immediately consider legislation to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. 
In a prepared statement responding to ABQ Journal questions about gun control the governor said “There are some individuals who should never have access to firearms, like criminals and the mentally ill, In reviewing our state statutes, I will pursue legislation this session to make clear that the state must accurately and promptly provide information on people who have been found mentally ill by a court, or who have been involuntarily committed to an institution.”  
She said a push is needed to ensure national criminal databases have updated information regarding an individual’s mental health status that would be flagged in federal background checks before some gun sales.  
Asked about the suddenly renewed political push to increase gun restrictions in the United States, Martinez emphasized the need to better recognize and battle mental health problems to curb gun violence. 


Terror time for people made intentionally defenseless

Commentary by Michael Swickard, Ph.D. The attacks in our society are driven by the media attention while we send our kids to schools are made intentionally defenseless by politicians who themselves are defended with guns. Our president talks about taking away the rights of citizens to defend themselves while he, himself, is protected by dozens of armed guards.

It is a terror time for people made intentionally defenseless. The Second Amendment is bantered about, but the core of the Constitution is about the rule of law and property rights. We own ourselves and therefore have a fundamental right to defend ourselves without any interference by government including the methods we use to defend ourselves. The founders of our country did not intend for us to be slain like fish in a barrel with no means of defense.
Winston Churchill had that great speech in World War Two where he said they would fight the Nazis on the beaches, in the streets, etc. It was a great speech but his country had taken all of the guns away from the population. The citizens were without weapons since their own government made them defenseless. Regardless of the way Churchill spoke, the citizens did not have any means to fight an invasion.
Years ago I awoke to a sound in the middle of the night and was confronted with my lack of ability to protect the ones I love. My duty was in the hallway with the intruder. I could not wait for the police because I could not let my daughter in her bedroom be defenseless. I was armed only with my determination, but no weapons. It was minutes until the police would arrive but I only had seconds.
I regularly work with my weapons. I am not enamored with guns; it is just work for me to keep proficient. Many places I go do not allow me to bring my weapons of defense into their establishment. I wonder what their defense strategy is given that no one in their business legally can have a gun. Oh, criminals can have weapons since they intend to violate the law anyway. Are these places opening up themselves to lawsuit by requiring us to be defenseless?
There comes a time when you have to defend yourself and others. Will you have a fighting chance to save yours and others lives? You can only do so if our government allows you to defend yourself adequately including the use of deadly force. Otherwise each citizen in our country is like those citizens in Mexico where guns are illegal but criminals rule. They live lives of terror because they have no way to defend themselves legally, and the criminals continue to kill innocents indiscriminately. Read full column