SIMMONS: Re-creating the Tuskegee experiment?

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Is the District preparing to conduct its own Tuskegee experiment? The synopsis: D.C. Council member David A. Catania is pushing legislation that would mandate mental and behavioral analyses of youths as young as 3, and city schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson testified Tuesday that she has bought into his misguided proposal.

Mr. Catania wants us to think that all infants are born with mental defects, but that government programs can fix them.

On Tuesday, Ms. Henderson, who runs the defective D.C. public education system, bolstered support for Mr. Catania’s claim by saying students undergo many challenges, but government programs fix them.

Testifying at a council hearing, Ms. Henderson said she and her staff will “hunker down” to “meet all of their needs, not just the academic ones.” Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown, who oversees educational issues, needs to slow their roll.

First of all, “D.C. can’t even teach kids to read and write,” a former D.C. teacher said yesterday afternoon when she learned of the Catania proposal.

Moreover, the Catania effort brings to mind a similar government-backed health program.

The federal government professed to be serving public-health interests in the 1930s when it designed and executed what we now call the Tuskegee experiment.

Officially titled “the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male,” it involved 600 black men, 399 of whom had the disease and 201 who did not. The study was conducted without their consent, and the men did not receive treatment to cure their illness.

Granted, not all D.C. schoolchildren are black, but Mr. Catania’s push for mental health screenings and data gathering nonetheless pushes the envelop.

Who will conduct the tests and the assessments? Who will have access to all of the information? Will treatment be offered? And by who? Psychiatrists? Psychologists? Will parents have to sign an opt-in form? Will a 3-year-old who fidgets too much for a teacher be designated a “behavior problem” and drugged?

Both the Gray administration and the council have already bitten off more than they can chew and properly digest by promising to successfully tango with the city’s double-digit jobless rate and their own individual and collective ethical lapses.

They also are on record vowing to fix the D.C. school system. Suffice it to say, it has been years since “school reform” measures were implemented, and D.C. students still don’t measure up academically.

If our schools can’t even teach most students to read and comprehend what they read, or be proficient in mathematics and algebra, why in the world should they be entrusted with curing or fixing children’s mental or behavioral issues? Mr. Brown and his colleagues and the mayor and his cohorts need to remember that oftentimes children who spend practically every waking hour in an institutional setting have no semblance of family.

They are either on the way to school, in school and on their way home from school, or in a before- or after-school program, or in a recreational or library setting that’s also government-run.

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About the Author
Deborah Simmons

Deborah Simmons

Award-winning opinion writer Deborah Simmons is a senior correspondent who reports on City Hall and writes about education, culture, sports and family-related topics. Mrs. Simmons has worked at several newspapers, and since joining The Washington Times in 1985, has served as editorial-page editor and features editor and on the metro desk. She has taught copy editing at the University of ...

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