A New Jim Crow: Disability and Racial Segregation in Georgia “Psychoeducational” Schools

This is a must read piece on the use of “psychoeducational” schools to segregate predominantly black children in Georgia from their peers.

At age 7, David was too much for his teachers to handle. So they decided to send him to a special program — unique to Georgia — called a psychoeducational school. He was like so many others already there: male, diagnosed with a behavioral disorder — and black.

Georgia’s public schools assign a vastly disproportionate number of African American students to psychoeducational programs, segregating them not just by disability but also by race, an investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found.

Black children form the majority at programs where teachers restrained children with dog leashes, where psychologists performed behavioral experiments on troubled students, and where chronically disruptive students spent time in solitary confinement, locked in rooms with bars over the windows. In one such room, euphemistically called a “time-out” area, a 14-year-old boy hanged himself.

Fifty-four percent of students in Georgia’s psychoeducational programs are African American, compared to 37 percent in all public schools statewide, the Journal-Constitution found. In half of the 24 programs, black enrollment exceeds 60 percent. In one, nine of every 10 students are African American.

The state and the individuals who make up the state respond differently to black behavior than to white behavior, accommodating the latter and segregating the first. There’s a DoJ suit pending, because this is likely illegal under federal law.

Many of these students have complex needs requiring sophisticated supports. Some, perhaps, might need less time in mainstreamed classrooms. But these programs function as warehouses for kids no one is truly serving. Here’s a quote from Mary Wood, who founded the program:

Wood stressed treatment, along with rigorous data collection that allowed her to evaluate the effectiveness of various therapies.

Over time, she said, funding decreased and priorities shifted. The programs compiled less data, and the people in charge placed less emphasis on mental health treatment.

“Behavior management, behavior control, and making sure they’re going to achieve what they’re supposed to achieve on testing” is how Wood, now retired, describes GNETS.
“The therapeutic dimension has disappeared,” she said.

The schools dispute this assessment, of course, and also denies that race plays any factor in placement.

On Sept. 18, Tonyi went to the school to meet with teachers and a behavioral specialist. Approaching David’s classroom, she said, she heard crying, then her son’s voice: “You’re hurting me, you’re hurting me.”
An aide had pinned David to the floor, Tonyi said. The woman was digging her fingernails into David’s hands, saying, “Do you understand? Do you understand? Do you understand?”
“Get your f-ing hands off him,” Tonyi yelled, and teachers called for a school police officer. Tonyi wanted to press charges against the aide, but the woman said David had thrown a timer at her.
The police officer ended up escorting Tonyi out of the building.

Regular readers of my work, including my CNN piece yesterday, know this kind of treatment happen around the nation. Abuse is a fundamental aspect of segregated education, but Georgia does seem to have specific problems.

Special education placement in Georgia, as with other states, seems to function as an element of what Michelle Alexander dubbed, “The new Jim Crow.”

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