Across the United States, children living with disabilities face the torture of school seclusion

In Loudon County, Virginia, 13-year-old Gigi Daniel-Zagorites lives with Phelan-McDermid syndrome, “a disorder that hampers her ability to speak.” In her middle school, one day in September, a fellow classmate took a picture of Gigi being “secluded”. Someone, teachers presumably, took a bookcase and a cabinet and built an enclosure in the corner of the classroom. Gigi was dumped in there, and two adults stood, or sat, guard. In the picture, Gigi is trying to get out or at least see over the barricades. Months later, her mother, Alexa Zagorites, is still asking questions and still getting no answers. Gigi Daniel-Zagorites and her mother are objects of the national pogrom against children living with disabilities. Like so many others, both Gigi and her mother refuse to be or become the victims that national policy intends for them.

Earlier this month, the New Hampshire Disability Rights Center released a report concerning the abusive seclusion and restraint of a 14-year-old child, called Zach, at the Sununu Youth Services Center. First, Zach was dumped into seclusion which led to two staff members throwing Zach to the ground and “restraining” him face down there. The staff fractured the child’s shoulder blade. Despite New Hampshire law, the restraint and, even more, the injury was not reported for two months. Months later, the Sununu Center continues to withhold information. New Hampshire has “restraint and seclusion” laws, but they all rely on the staff to self-report. The levels of violence form a network of threads of immediate, intimate violence and those of structural violence, all held together by the violence and suffering of family, friends, and community.

Similar stories have been recently reported in IndianaIowa, Florida, and Arizona, to name a few from only the last month or so. Across the country, children in school learn that living with a disability is a crime. It must be a crime, otherwise why would the adult staff members be punishing them so?

Last month, U.S. Department of Education released a report on school climate and safety for 2015 – 2016. It found that Iowa rates had just about doubled. For example, in 2013, 23 school districts in eastern Iowa had 2514 reported instances of seclusion or restraint. In 2015, that number rose to 4,904. A recent Iowa State report describes Davenport as in “systemic non-compliance” of Federal laws concerning the education of students living with disabilities. According to the report, the situation for students of color in Davenport is particularly dire, systemically so. Both of Iowa’s U.S. Senators are calling for a Federal investigation into the use of seclusion rooms. Davenport’s U.S. Representative Dave Loebsack has called for a ban on seclusion rooms.

The report on school climate and safety merely confirmed what we already know. In a nutshell, students living with disabilities constituted 12% of all students enrolled. 12 percent. That very small sector of students living with disabilities constituted 71% of all students restrained and 66% of all students “secluded.”

What crime have these children committed? What is their terrible sin? Why do we continue to send these children into solitary confinement? Why do we continue to torture those who are most vulnerable? When will we stop this practice? What do you think we’re teaching children, all the children in all the schools, when we torture their classmates and then call it “seclusion” and “restraint”?

 

(Infographic Credit: U.S. Department of Education)

The United States prefers mass incarceration to mass education

Welcome to the United States of Incarceration. According to a recent federal report, from 1989 to 2013, “All states had lower expenditure growth rates for PK–12 education than for corrections, and in the majority of the states, the rate of increase for corrections was more than 100 percentage points higher than the rate for education … Over the past three decades, state and local government expenditures on prisons and jails have increased about three times as fast as spending on elementary and secondary education.” The three decades’ long surge in police violence as well as in prison and jail deaths has been funded by taking money from schools and dumping it, along with Brown and Black bodies, into prisons and jails.

Texas leads this punitive race to the bottom. Between 1989 and 2013, Texas’s “corrections” budget increased by 850 percent, handily leading all other states. Next in line are Wyoming (712% increase), New Mexico (704% increase), and Idaho (701%). While nationally prison spending has risen three times as fast as school spending, in Texas, prison spending has risen eight times as quickly. Between 1989 and 2013, Texas’s public pre-K through 12 budget increased a mere 182%. With a three decades’ long prison – to – school discrepancy of 668%, Texas “leads” the nation.

At the postsecondary level, the situation is even worse. Currently 18 states spend more on prisons and jails than on colleges and universities.

This robbing pupils to cage prisoners scenario is explained away by harsh mandatory sentencing guidelines combined with generalized broken windows policing that results in the working poor being herded into prisons and, even more, jails. In Houston, for example, 75% of those in jail are awaiting trial. They can’t afford to post bail, and so they sit behind bars. Their collective crime is poverty.

But there’s more to mass incarceration than “unfortunate” policy. There’s urban development. A recent federal report on the prison-instead-of-school pipeline notes, “Researchers at Columbia University found that a disproportionate number of the upwards of two million people in U.S. prisons and jails come from disadvantaged neighborhoods in the country’s biggest cities; the authors coined the term `million dollar blocks’ to refer to places where the concentration of incarcerated individuals is so dense that states are spending over a million dollars a year to incarcerate the residents of a single city block. Incarceration in the U.S. occurs disproportionately among people of color.”

Why invest in urban Black and Brown neighborhoods when you can ship resident bodies out of town, to failing predominantly White rural communities where land values have been forced to collapse and unemployment and precariousness reign? Follow the money. The fervid investment in prisons and jails at the expense of grade schools, colleges and universities is part of the overheated urban real estate market of “growing” and “redeveloping” cities. It’s the latest form of root shock where, thirty years ago, the racial politics of `blight’ as a form of `urban renewal’ became a targeted policy of no school left standing in Black and Brown neighborhoods, and no prison or jail cell left behind.

 

(Image Credit 1: Design4Peace) (Image Credit 2: Washington Post)

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)

Trauma and violence have become the global school curriculum

 

Paballo Seane, 19, was buried recently: “Paballo Seane, 19, a Grade 12 pupil at Cefups Academy, which is on a farm 11km outside Nelspruit, died in hospital over a week ago after allegedly being sjambokked by a teacher. She was buried on Saturday in her home town, Bloemfontein, in the Free State.”

Since Paballo Seane died, or was killed, former students of the Cefups Academy have reported their memories of sjamboks as a fairly regular “pedagogical tool.” Parents are threatening to take their children out of the school, and Mpumalanga Premier David Mabuza has said if corporal punishment was used, the academy will be closed.

Will it be closed?

This is not the first time Cefups Academy has run into precisely this trouble. In 1999, Simon Mkhatshwa, the school’s founder, was convicted for sjambokking a teacher.

South Africa’s Deputy Minister of Higher Education Mduduzi Manana, a graduate of Cefups Academy, describes Simon Mkhatshwa as a “typical traditional man who believed that what must happen at school was teaching and learning and nothing else”.

Is the sjambok teaching, learning, or nothing else?

The violence done to Paballo Seane in school by a staff member is no anomaly, neither in South Africa nor around the world.

Across the United States, schools use so-called seclusion rooms, which are solitary confinement cells. Teachers are not supposed to use the rooms for punishment, but they do regularly. More often than not, the children believe that their punishment was not apt and normal, because teachers are fair and just. And so they don’t tell their parents. Not surprisingly, the majority of children are living with disabilities.

Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven? No longer.

And in India, in the state of Madhya Pradesh, the State Commission for Protection of Child Rights “has written to state government to make it mandatory for teachers to sign an undertaking against torture to students.” This is due to a spike over the last two years in complaints of torture of students by school staff.

Teachers need to sign a document that says they will not “undertake” the torture of students?

The gender dynamic of staff violence has yet to be studied conclusively. What is known is that the experience is traumatic, hurts deeply and lasts forever. Trauma and violence have become the global curriculum.

Last week, Kathleen Dey, of Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust, urged South Africans not to use Women’s Day, August 9, as an alibi for hiding from precisely violence against women. This week, on August 12, the world `celebrated’ International Youth Day. Think of that, and think of Paballo Seane dying under the lash of a sjambok. Think of the girls across South Africa, the United States, India and around the world who suffer violence in the one place that is meant to help precisely girls advance in this world and the next: school. Remember Paballo Seane and all the girls, and then do something.

 

(This is part of a collaboration between Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust and Women In and Beyond the Global. The original, very different version can be found here. Thanks to Kathleen Dey and all the staff and volunteers at Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust for their great and urgent work.)

(Photo Credit: Lowvelder)

Children in torture chambers in schools across the United States

Disturbing reports came out this week that show that children, overwhelmingly children living with disabilities, are kept in solitary confinement across the United States. In some places, the rooms are called “seclusion rooms” and, in other places, “scream rooms.” Call them what they are: solitary confinement, the hole, torture chambers.

Torture is not too grand or extreme a description. Children have committed suicide in these rooms, in schools like the ones around the corner from you. Children have come home with injuries which needed surgery. Often, staff caused these injuries. Across the country, children, and their parents, live with symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder. The list goes on.

This is part of a national war on children. The incarceration and torture of children in schools occurs at a time when girls are being sent to jail for status offenses while boys are not. Taken together, this is the national policy of protection for children, for children with special needs, and for girls. And if you’re a girl with special needs, you’re in trouble. We have traveled far, and quickly, from the days of “suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”

At the national level, the only shock here are the numbers, which are assumed to be lower than the actual incidences, and the shock, the fact that, despite report after report after report after report, each report is `surprising’. Amnesia has always been the alibi for the citizens of the Torture State. It allows us to forget that our elected representatives killed legislation that would end the policy of school-based solitary confinement. It allows us to forget that some places in the country, like Montgomery County, Virginia, have done away seclusion rooms and replaced them with healthier, more reliable systems that actually work. It allows us to forget both evidence and hope.

So as not to forget, here’s a story, taken from a US Senate staff report issued this past February. The report finds such cases occur across the country. Minnesota is an instance, not an exception:

Minnesota: In January 2004, an eight-year-old girl began attending Jefferson Elementary School in the Willmar Public School District. Her mother described her as a `little girl who loved to go to school, even though the child had been diagnosed with a communication disorder and designated as developmentally delayed with speech and language impairment at age three.

“Since kindergarten, the girl’s IEP had included a behavioral intervention plan that authorized the use of restraints and seclusions when she exhibited certain behaviors. Eventually, the school district and her mother had the child assessed by an outside evaluator, who did not recommend the use of restraints or seclusions. However, the techniques remained in the girl’s behavioral intervention plan during the 2005 to 2006 school year. The mother said she had agreed to the use of seclusion, in an area the school called a `quiet room,’ only if necessary. However, some reports indicate the girl’s teacher secluded her forty-four times in one school year.102 The girl’s mother also said the teacher made the child sit at a `thinking desk’ perfectly still for thirty minutes straight and demeaned and belittled the child when she could not hold this posture. If the girl fidgeted or made any noise, her teacher would yell at her and sometimes put her into restraints, including a prone hold.103 During one incident in April 2006, the teacher forced the girl into the seclusion room while she was on her way to the bathroom, causing the child to urinate on herself.

“Aides reported that the teacher’s classroom, which was somewhat hidden in the basement of Jefferson, was `more a punishment/torture area than a classroom,’ and `run very much like a secret room that you are not supposed to talk about.’”

Suffer the children for of such is the kingdom of heaven.

 

(Image Credit: Ward Zwart / New York Times)

The ordinary everyday torture of schoolchildren

Trevon Hanks

Everyday, across the United States, children leave home and go off to school, where they are routinely tortured. It’s the price of running an efficient country.

Across the United States, school systems are being charged with Taser abuse of children, and especially of children of color and children living with disabilities. The U.S. Department of Justice has charged Wake County, North Carolina, for violation of students’ constitutional rights. Eight students are named in the complaint. They’re all Black. The violation consists of overly high rates of arrest and use of extreme violence, including use of Tasers, pepper spray, and choke holds.

In Syracuse, New York, two students and the New York ACLU are charging the school system with similar violations. In the case of one student, Trevon Hanks, his crime was breaking down and crying. Hanks had been out of school for medical reasons, and had tried to make up for lost time. On his eighteenth birthday, he found out that he would not graduate on time, and he broke down, literally. Crying, in a near fetal position on the floor, the school police came and assaulted him, including using a Taser. As in North Carolina, the stories are the tip of an iceberg.

The iceberg extends beyond this school system or that.

In Texas last year, Noe Niño de Rivera was Tasered by two school police officers. Niño de Rivera collapsed, fell to the floor, and suffered severe brain hemorrhage. After 52 days in induced coma, Niño de Rivera is not expected to fully recover … ever. Staff can’t use Tasers in juvenile detention, but in the school corridors, it’s all good.

In Wisconsin, students, parents, advocates struggle with a system-wide over reliance on seclusion rooms and physical restraint. In Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, students, parents, advocates continue to struggle with the aftermath of the “kids for cash” regime, in which thousands of children were sent off to juvenile detention, and sometimes adult prisons, for minor, and status.

In Santa Ana, California, a 14-year-old boy was tagging a tree with graffiti, when a police officer happened by. The officer jumped on the boy, who called out for help. The officer put the boy in a chokehold. The boy continues to cry out for help. “Stop fighting me,” shouted the officer. “I’m not fighting you,” replied the boy. Witnesses called on the officer to stop. One witness, Elvia Fernandez, tells the boy, in Spanish, “Relax. Don’t move.” The officer shouts at her to stop speaking in Spanish.

Seclusion rooms. Tasers. Choke holds. Harassment. Intimidation. Much of this is directed at students of color and at student living with disabilities. On one hand, the school system has always bullied its minorities. Some must learn to accept their roles as the persecuted. But there’s more. School systems invest in `scientific’ seclusion rooms and `technologically advanced’ Tasers. School police are trained in the most efficient ways to disable an offender.

What is lost in this porridge of science and technology? Children. Some children, by their very presence, impede the efficient engine of education. They must be punished, and they are. They must be tortured, and they are, across the entire nation.

 

(Photo credit: NYCLU)

America’s seclusion rooms form a landscape of atrocity

Recently, legislators in Oregon, Arizona, and Indiana began to address so-called seclusion rooms. Seclusion rooms are solitary confinement cells in schools. They’re also called `isolation booths’, `isolation boxes’, and `behavior support’. George Orwell is alive and well, and apparently in charge in the schoolhouses of the United States.

Jared Harrison is now 12 years old. He went to primary school in Eugene, Oregon. According to his testimony, for four years, starting in first grade, he was forced into a seclusion room pretty much every day, often for hours. Further, his parents were never informed. Ever. As his mother, Jennifer Harrison, explained, “”I was never notified. I didn’t know it was happening until I walked in and found him screaming facedown on the ground with two adults sitting on top of him.”

Parents have notified the State that they’re considering a lawsuit.

Parents in Arizona are also suing the State for having put their child in seclusion for hours on end. When the child asked, begged, to go to the bathroom, he was refused. And so finally, he urinated in the cell. The boy’s mother, Leslie Noyes is quite clear on at least one point: ““It’s like five by six, padded walls, no windows.  It is definitely like a cell.” Don’t call those rooms `seclusion rooms’, don’t call them `cool-down’ spaces, and certainly don’t call them `open air rooms’. Call them prison cells.

In Indiana, parents and advocates are also saying those prison cells are not “quiet rooms” or “safe rooms.” They’re specifically not safe because no one monitors the child while she or he is in the cell. They’re simply left there, absolutely alone. That’s not quiet, that’s not safe, and that’s not education. That’s violence.

Repeatedly, the story of violence is at least twofold, and each fold intensifies the other. First, there is the forced seizure and abandonment of a child into a cell for an extended period of time. Second, there is the discovery by the parents of what has been going on. The parents and the children share in the tragedy. When the children testify, the mothers, such as Jennifer Harrison, listen by their side and weep. The violence doesn’t stop once the door to the `seclusion room’ has been opened.

This is a tale of atrocity: “[M]ore often than not, [contemporary psychiatric]’medicine’ is a complete atrocity-comparable only to the history out of which it grew: is four-point restraint-being tied down at the wrists and ankles-an improvement over being bound with chains? Is the cage inhumane whereas the seclusion room is not?”

Speak the truth fearlessly. Solitary confinement in our prisons is torture. Seclusion rooms in our schools are an atrocity. The solitary confinement of seclusion rooms comprises the social human landscape of the United States today. Close the seclusion rooms. Do it now.

 

(Video Credit: Dan Habib / Vimeo)

The political economy of vulnerable

 


Around the world, women, children, men, are humiliated and abused as a matter of public policy and widespread practices. When the practices are finally reported, the women, children, men are described as `vulnerable,’ as if vulnerability were a state of being. It’s not. Vulnerability is an active verb, as is violence.

In the past week, in the United States, reports have shown that pregnant school girls are kicked out of school or refused schooling. Why? Across the country, children living with disabilities, and especially Black children living with disabilities, suffer extraordinarily high school suspension rates. Why? In New York City, it has been `discovered’ that the stop-and-frisk practices that target Black communities are particularly humiliating for Black women. Why do these policies exist? To produce vulnerable populations and individuals.

I thought of these as I read about Happiness Mbedzi. Happiness Mbedzi lived in Diepsloot, a “sprawling informal settlement north of Johannesburg”. Sprawling … and notorious for its desperate conditions as well as innumerable popular mobilizations and organizing efforts. Diepsloot: water-less, info-less, service-less … but not without hope?

In Diepsloot, Happiness Mbedzi tried to maintain her household, herself, her husband, her son. To do so, she took on debts. The debts had crushing interest rates. Happiness took out more loans to pay for the interest on her earlier loans. Finally, she borrowed money from her young son, went to the shops, bought poison, and killed herself.

This is described as a tale of the `vulnerable.’ Happiness Mbedzi was not vulnerable. She was under attack. Local banks, community stokvels, neighbors are all reportedly charging predatory rates. How is it that stokvels, which traditionally supported women like Happiness Mbedzi, are now as predatory as the banks, at least in Diepsloot? How is it that no neighbors are around who would lend money to a neighbor woman in desperate straits?

For Happiness Mbedzi, as for young women students, the Black students living with disabilities, the Black women of New York, institutions ostensibly designed to assist and even improve one’s situation have been transformed into lethal weapons. Schools target particular young women. Schools target particular Black women and men. Police target Black women. The result? Targeted impoverishment that goes under the name of development and the common good. And those who are assaulted, who are wounded simply because of whom they are, they are then reported as being `vulnerable.’ It was destiny that struck them.

Vulnerability is not a status nor a class nor a caste nor a rank. It is not a state of being nor is it synonymous with weakness. And vulnerability is not inevitable. Vulnerability is a political and economic power relationship. Individuals and populations are designated and then produced, and reproduced, as vulnerable. Happiness Mbedzi was not vulnerable and she was not part of a `most vulnerable population’. She was turned into a `vulnerable woman’ by public policy and by State practices that have constructed Diepsloot as inevitably `vulnerable.’ It’s not.

 

(Photo Credit: Daily Maverick / Reuters)

We two too

 

We two too

We two too
would have been
out Blomvlei Primary way
had we remembered
to be

We two too
Lansdowne librarian Ian Gordon
and left-handed I, David Kapp

We two too
support the cause
of Equal Education’s
Campaign for School Libraries

1 school 1 library
less than 1%
of the education budget
is all it would take

less than 1%
of the education budget
for a library in every school
in the country (over 10 years)

We two too
then read about
your home from home
(out Hanover Park way)
where you will grow
after the school day

We two too
the two of us
we too
forgot

How many more
have forgotten
(or not yet discovered)
the joy of books
and libraries too

Quite mortified am I, at our forgetfulness, reminded by the Cape Times article “Equal Education opens another library” (CT, February 28 2011) of the grand event.

 

(Photo Credit: Equal Education)