New Mexico teen's school absence unnoticed before his death
Feb. 25, 2018
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A New Mexico boy who authorities said endured years of abuse and was found buried along the side of a rural highway had not attended school for several months.
Jeremiah Valencia's mother, Tracy Pena, pulled him out of a Las Vegas, New Mexico, middle school in February 2017 and told school officials she would enroll him in a Santa Fe school. But she never did and school and state officials did not notice, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported .
Valencia had been out of school for at least seven months before he died, police said.
Authorities did not discover the 13-year-old's body until two month after his estimated death in November because no one reported Valencia as missing, they said.
Pena's boyfriend Thomas Ferguson, 42, was indicted last week on first-degree murder and 17 other felony counts related to Valencia's death. Police believe he brutally beat the teen to death while Pena was in jail on a warrant for failing to appear in court.
Pena and Ferguson's son, 19-year-old Jordan Nunez, also is facing charges in the case.
Authorities learned about Valencia's murder in January when Pena told another county jail inmate about her son's death and named Ferguson as the person who killed the teen.
The inmate shared the information with sheriff's investigators.
Under state law, parents are required to enroll children between the ages of 5 and 18 in school. However, there is no specific state official responsible for ensuring that happens when students are transferred between districts or taken from a public school to a private or charter school.
The New Mexico Public Education Department tracks dropout rates and other statistics, but does not follow up when students vanish from the education system, spokeswoman Lida Alikhani said in an email.
"The state is not required to intervene with any individual student," she said. "That responsibility lies on the school or district."
In Valencia's case, West Las Vegas Middle School officials believed the teen had been transferred to Capshaw Middle School because a code showed that he was a student there, said Christopher Gutierrez, the superintendent for the Las Vegas district.
Records show a preliminary registration form had been filled out for Valencia, but he never became a student, said Jeff Gephart, a spokesman for Santa Fe Public Schools.
Gutierrez told The New Mexican that staff members did their due diligence when they tried to follow up on Valencia, but said he has implemented changes following his death.
"Some of the things I see (are) that we need to communicate a little more," Gutierrez said. "Different people have different roles to play when it comes to transferring (records) or accepting transfer slips. We need to make sure that everybody is crossing their t's and dotting their i's."
Information from: The Santa Fe New Mexican, http://www.sfnewmexican.com