New Mexico’s next governor will inherit the task of turning around a struggling public education system. This year a judge ruled the state has violated the constitutional rights of at-risk students, including those with disabilities, and must make changes to give everyone an adequate education.
Sheryl Trail is a longtime state employee who has an 11-year-old daughter with autism. She says she’s undecided about her choice for governor but she’s hoping for anything better than the status quo, especially when it comes to special education.
On a midday break from her job at the Department of Workforce Solutions, Trail cheerfully describes her hectic schedule for the day: she’ll drive across town multiple times between daycare, her daughter’s school, her mom’s house, and therapy. The family will end the evening as it does six days of the week, with two hours of applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy.
“This kind of day usually happens a lot,” she says, chuckling.
Amaya was first diagnosed with autism at 18 months old, and Trail says when she was young there weren’t a lot of services and therapies readily available.
“We really had to work hard to get everything we have in place today,” says Trail. “I have Medicaid now, because I’m now a single parent, but when I was married, it was very tough. The state’s insurance didn’t cover anything for autism at the beginning. It was kinda like, ‘Are we going to pay our mortgage, or pay a therapy?’ So that was difficult on a marriage, as you can imagine. Without Medicaid, I don’t know what I’d do.”
After having a hard time at two other elementary schools, Trail says her daughter seems safe and happy at Mark Twain Elementary. “At the end of the day, we put our trust into the system to care for our child who is, for the most part, nonverbal,” says Trail. “So I kinda worry about that stuff. All we can do is pray that all goes well and we don’t have any issues.”
“Amaya’s so quirky. She’s so funny,” Trail says, tearing up. “I get so emotional when I talk about her. She’s funny, usually very happy-go-lucky, very detailed with everything she looks at. She’s just a very special child, and I feel very lucky to be her mom. Very lucky.”
Trail says her political leanings have always been split between the affiliations of her mother, a Democrat “inside and out” from Española, and her Republican father from Mississippi. She says she hasn't decided between Steve Pearce and Michelle Lujan Grisham, but says the most important thing is to elect a governor who knows and cares about special education.
She points out that “FAPE,” or Free and Appropriate Education, is the law here. “Every child deserves that, no matter what disability,” she said. “I’m just making sure my child gets that.”
Support for KUNM’s Public Health New Mexico project comes from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the McCune Charitable Foundation, the Con Alma Health Foundation, and from KUNM listeners like you.