In Georgia, for children with disabilities, school is a prison

Georgia continues its war on children living with disabilities. Once, Georgia public schools had “seclusion rooms”. The doors were double bolted on the outside. In 2004, Jonathan King, 13, hanged himself in one such room, a stark, 8-foot-by-8-foot “timeout” room in a Gainesville public school.” In 2010, six years later, Georgia finally passed a law that protects all students from seclusion and restraint.

Seclusion rooms continue in schools across the country. Just this year, Virginia finally passed a law limiting seclusion rooms and the use of force in restraining children. The Virginia legislature only passed this law after the story of the continued abuse, call it torture, of 10-year-old Carson Luke began circulating. Many state legislatures have yet to address seclusion rooms.

It’s been five years since Georgia outlawed seclusion rooms in public schools. So, how are children with disabilities being treated in Georgia’s schools? According to the U.S. Department of Justice, criminally. On July 15, the Department of Justice sent the Governor and Attorney General its Investigation of the Georgia Network for Educational and Therapeutic Support, twenty-one pages of pain and suffering applied to thousands of children.

The Georgian Network for Educational and Therapeutic Support, or GNETS, has been running since 1970. Jonathan King attended a GNETS school. Presently about 5000 children attend GNETS schools. There are 25 GNETS programs, costing about $70 million this year alone. Georgia doesn’t consider GNETS facilities “schools” but rather “special entities”. It doesn’t take much to get a child sent to GNETS: “Our review of records indicated, that their children were often immediately referred to the GNETS Program after one incident or several interrelated incidents associated with a single event or problem, such as using inappropriate language with a teacher on more than one occasion.”

GNETS is both separate but unequal Jim Crow and prison. First separate but unequal: “The State’s administration of the GNETS Program results in inequality of educational opportunities for students in the Program. Students in the GNETS Program generally do not receive grade-level instruction that meets Georgia’s State Standards like their peers in general education classrooms. Rather, particularly at the high school level, students in the GNETS Program often receive only computer-based instruction. By contrast, their peers in general education classrooms generally receive instruction from a teacher certified in the subject matter they are teaching, and in the case of students with disabilities, also from a teacher certified in special education. Students in the GNETS Program also often lack access to electives and extracurricular activities, such as after-school athletics or clubs … Many of the students in the GNETS Program attend school in inferior facilities in various states of disrepair that lack many of the features and amenities of general education schools, such as gymnasiums, cafeterias, libraries, science labs, music rooms, or playgrounds. Some GNETS Centers are located in poor-quality buildings that formerly served as schools for black students during de jure segregation, which have been repurposed to house the GNETS Program.”

How have these Jim Crow schools been “repurposed to house the GNETS Program”? “We visited the Flint Area GNETS Program, where over 40 students are placed in GNETS Classrooms in a segregated wing of a general education high school. Students in the GNETS Program have separate restrooms located within their wing. Although students in the GNETS Program eat lunch in the high school cafeteria, they have a separate lunch period, during which time no general education students are present. The GNETS Program wing has its own building entrance with a metal detector that GNETS Program students must pass through before entering the school building. By contrast, the general education students enter the school through the front door of the same large building, where there are no metal detectors. GNETS Program staff reported that none of the GNETS Program students have any interaction with their general education peers during the school day, even though they attend school in the same building. Similarly, our investigation found that a GNETS Classroom in the Northwest Georgia GNETS Program is located in the basement of a general education school with its own separate entrance. The students in this GNETS Classroom reportedly never leave the basement or interact with any other students during the school day. There is a large sign hanging at the front of this GNETS Classroom that says `DETENTION,’ because the Classroom is also used for detention outside regular school hours.”

Georgia has bypassed the school-to-prison pipeline in favor of the school-as-prison: “One student in the GNETS Program stated, `School is like prison where I am in the weird class.’ He attributes this in large part to isolation and distance from other students in the general education community … One parent stat[ed], `Once you are in GNETS you are considered a ‘bad kid.’ It’s a warehouse for kids the school system doesn’t want or know how to deal with.’ Several parents and students … compared the GNETS Program to prisons.”

The State “relocates” generations of children into inferior and destructive structures, warehouses, prisons, and calls it education? That’s not education. That’s apartheid. It’s war by another name. End the war on children living with disabilities. End the war on children. Do it now.

 

(Opening image credit: Ward Zwart / New York Times) (Closing image credit: http://revolutionarypaideia.com)

About Dan Moshenberg

Dan Moshenberg is an organizer educator who has worked with various social movements in the United States and South Africa. Find him on Twitter at @danwibg.