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Kids with disabilities, behavior problems illegally segregated in Georgia

The Department of Justice has concluded that the state of Georgia is illegally segregating students with disabilities and behavioral issues. A two-year investigation found that some of the programs are even housed in dilapidated buildings once used as all black schools during the Jim Crow era. Judy Woodruff talks to Alan Judd of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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    But, first, schools for students with disabilities and behavioral issues in the state of Georgia are under scrutiny.

    In a two-year-long investigation, the U.S. Department of Justice found that Georgia is illegally segregating these students. Some of the programs are even housed in dilapidated buildings once used as all-black schools during the Jim Crow era.

    Alan Judd is an investigative reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He has written about the schools and about the Justice Department's findings.

    Alan Judd, we welcome you.

    So, who are these students that the state of Georgia is putting in a separate educational program?

  • ALAN JUDD, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

    At any given time, there may be about 5,000 of them. They are students who have — of varying ages who have behavioral issues, who have mental health issues, who maybe are in the autism spectrum, but they are children who have been deemed difficult to control and difficult to educate by their home schools.


    And how is the program for them different from the mainstream general education K-12 opportunity that the state of Georgia offers children?


    Well, first of all, many are segregated entirely from the mainstream classes, from their regular education peers.

    They often do not have science labs. They don't have art classes, music classes. They may not have access to a gymnasium. The report by the Justice Department found that at least one school actually has segregated restrooms for these students, they have a separate lunch period, they have a separate entrance to the building from other students, where they actually go through a metal detector, where other students don't.

    Another one of the schools keeps them in the basement all day, so they're not even allowed to even — to be in the sight of other students.


    There are some pretty terrible examples that you have written about, both what's been going on more recently and then a really horrific thing that happened back about 10 or 11 years ago with a 13-year-old in Georgia.



    Jonathan King was, as you said, who was assigned to one of these schools in Gainesville, Georgia, which is northeast of Atlanta. He had been kept in a seclusion room, which is basically a holding cell. It's a concrete block room with no windows, no water, no restroom facilities, nothing. He had been kept in there, I think, 15 times in 29 days for an average of 94 minutes at a time in solitary confinement.

    He had twice threatened suicide, yet, on one particular day, he was allowed — he was placed in that room and was allowed to keep a small piece of rope that he had — was using to hold up his pants as a belt, and then he promptly hanged himself.


    So, what is the Justice Department saying the state of Georgia has to do?


    They're not giving specific instructions, but they're expecting a significant reply, I believe, from state officials.

    But, mainly, it will be to find ways to desegregate the system. And that may mean closing it down altogether. It may mean mainstreaming more children than they're doing now. It could mean possibly finding private facilities that would take some of these children and educate them.


    Alan Judd, how different is the way Georgia handles these children from most other states?


    Well, the trend for the last couple decades or more has been to mainstream children in special education, what we have always called special ed.

    Georgia seems to be the only state with its network of what they call psycho-educational schools that are specifically designed for children with behavioral problems, primarily. So, it looks like we're the only state that still does this.


    And, as I understand it, the state has not yet responded. They say they're studying what the Justice Department charges.


    That's right. The governor's office and the state Department of Education have just said they will look at it.


    Well, it's a disturbing piece of reporting, a disturbing report from the Justice Department.

    Alan Judd, we thank you.


    Thank you.

    PBS NewsHour education coverage is part of American Graduate: Let's Make it Happen, a public media initiative made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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