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)

End the war on children living with disabilities. End it now.

Over two years ago, we wrote about `seclusion rooms’. These are solitary confinement spaces in schools across the United States. More often than not, they’re closets or utility rooms, anything small and tight with a lock on the outside. That is not seclusion. That is torture.

And of course, `of course’, the subjects of this practice are overwhelmingly children living with disabilities. Children like Jonathan King, who, at 13, hanged himself in a Georgia seclusion room. Or the 12-year-old girl living with autism, or the seven-year-old girl living with autism and bipolar disorder.

Or, as described in yesterday’s New York Times, Rose, who, in kindergarten, was locked into seclusion rooms for hours … at five years of age. Her `problem’? Rose had `speech and language delays’. For which she was thrown into a closed, dark space for an hour or so at a time.

Rose’s father reports she was deeply traumatized. The school system, in Lexington, Massachusetts, has agreed, or been forced by a lawsuit settlement, to pay for Rose’s treatment.

Seclusion rooms, screaming rooms, school based solitary confinement can be found in Connecticut, Kentucky, New York, Florida, Ohio. Georgia banned seclusion rooms … `thanks’ to Jonathan King. How many children? How many children must suffer? How many children must then be given `the gift’ of post-traumatic treatment? For how long?

While this issue addresses all children, and all people, it strikes at the heart of citizenship for those living with disabilities. Billions of dollars of profit are generated every year from the care provided for those living with disabilities. Those who care for those living with disabilities are overworked, underpaid, and always under-esteemed. Billions are stolen from their labor and lives.

At the same time that billions of dollars of profit are generated, there isn’t enough money to provide decent, humane treatment? No. This is the production of vulnerability writ large on small bodies. In the United Kingdom, Ellen Clifford, of Disabled People Against the Cuts, DPAC, knows this lesson all too well. In Nigeria, Patience Ogolo, of Advocacy for Women with Disabilities Initiative, AWWDI, does as well. So does Marsha M. Linehan, a psychologist at the University of Washington who, as an adolescent, suffered and barely survived seclusion rooms. Only now, many decades later, can she finally share the stories of her life in the cells.

These women know that the State that treats any group as disposable is worse than a failed or a rogue state. It’s criminal.

The claim of State poverty as an alibi for physical, emotional and psychological harm against people living with disabilities is a crime. The suggestion that there isn’t enough money or resources is a lie and a crime. And the lie and the crime are framed within a political economy of vulnerability, in which it is presumed that the vulnerable cannot speak or act for themselves.

They can, and they do. And they know that the question of who lives and who dies has been taken over by the question of who lives well and who lives in hell, under constant attack.

End the war on children living with disabilities. End it now.

 

(Image Credit: Ward Zwart / New York Times)

 

What is left: after solitary confinement in schools

Prison is a bad place for children. Solitary confinement is worse yet. Extended solitary confinement is lethal. These are not surprising statements, and the news that underwrites them, though dismaying, is not particularly shocking.

Immigration detention centers in the US, such as the Eloy Detention Center in Arizona, run by Corrections Corporation of America, or the Reeves County Detention Center, run by GEO, are lethal, fatal black holes for all residents. Joe Arpaio’s jail in Maricopa County is only the best known example of humiliation and terror against all Latinas and Latinos, irrespective of status, and which results in increased anxiety and mental health problems for Latina and Latino children.

And it is estimated that more than 60 of those held in Guantanamo were under 18 when they were arrested and sent to Cuba.

In England, Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre is so terrible for children that the entire nation is now considered unsafe for children of immigrant parents, including those seeking asylum and refuge. The place literally drives children mad.

Juvenile centers in the United States report that sexual abuse of prisoners, by other prisoners and, more, by staff, is off the charts. In 2008 – 2009, in more than a few juvenile detention centers, a recent study suggested that nearly one out of every three prisoners suffered some sort of sexual abuse.

When children go to prison, how are they educated? According to some, they’re not at all. California is being sued in a federal class action case for failing to educate youth in their `probation camps.’

These are terrible and tragic and all too familiar. Prison is a bad place, after all. Bad things happen.

Those bad things that happen to children are not restricted to prisons. Take “seclusion rooms”, for example: “Seclusion is the involuntary confinement of a student alone in a room or area from which the student is physically prevented from leaving. This includes situations where a door is locked as well as where the door is blocked by other objects or held by staff.”

This happens in schools all over the United States.

In the state of Georgia, public schools have “seclusion rooms,” solitary confinement cells. The doors are double bolted on the outside: “Seclusion rooms are allowed in Georgia public schools provided they are big enough for children to lie down, have good visibility and have locks that spring open in case of an emergency such as a fire. 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.” Time out. When schools put children into solitary confinement, what time is left?

What is left for Jonathan King’s parents, so many years later? Pain, anguish. Only now is Georgia finally responding by considering a law that protects all students from seclusion and restraint. It only took the State legislature six years … equal to almost half of Jonathan King’s entire life.

In May 2009, the Missouri state legislature passed a law giving the school districts two years in which to devise written policies governing the use of seclusion rooms. Before that, there were no policies, only the practice of solitary confinement of school children without a single written guideline or rule. This is now an issue in the upcoming GOP primary for State Senate. One candidate sees restrictions on solitary confinement of children as a violation of local sovereignty.

Florida state legislators are also considering a bill to restrict the use of restraint and seclusion. There are seclusion rooms all over the state school system, from elementary on up. Up til now, there has been no written policy.

Not surprisingly, solitary confinement is of particular concern to parents of children living with disabilities. Here are two stories from Florida:

When a twelve year old girl with autism repeated names of movies, shoved papers off her desk or waved her arms and kicked her legs toward approaching teachers, they responded by grabbing the eighty pound girl, forcing her to the ground and holding her there. This happened forty-four times during the 2006-07 school year.  She was held once for an hour, and, on average, twenty-two minutes at a time.  At least one incident left her back badly bruised.

When a seven year old girl, diagnosed with autism and bipolar disorder had her head pushed to the floor, the parents discovered several other frequent inappropriate uses of restraint and seclusion. The county where they live leaves it to individual schools to write their own policies on restraint or seclusion use.

These come from a 2009 report issued by the National Disability Rights Network: School is not supposed to hurt: Investigative Report on Abusive Restraint and Seclusion in Schools.  The stories come from all over the United States.

On the cover is the picture of a lovely, smiling seven year-old girl, from Wisconsin:

A seven year old girl was suffocated and killed at a mental health day treatment facility when several adult staff pinned her to the floor in a prone restraint.  This child, who was diagnosed with an emotional disturbance and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, died because she was blowing bubbles in her milk and did not follow the time-out rules regarding movement.

Greenfield School District, outside Milwaukee, Wisconsin, applied to use Federal stimulus funds to build seclusion rooms in elementary and middle schools. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction recently rejected the application, instructing all school districts in the state that stimulus funds and special education funds not be used for that purpose. Greenfield is disappointed.

School is not supposed to hurt. It’s not only the children sent to isolation who suffer. What are the other children in the classrooms, in the hallways, in the school offices, who witness these acts and know of these rooms as part of the norm, what are they being taught? What becomes of a generation of child witnesses to torture?

 

(Video Credit: Vimeo/StopHurtingKids.com)