- Associated Press - Saturday, May 7, 2016

ATLANTA (AP) - A newspaper’s investigation finds that Georgia’s public schools assign a vastly disproportionate number of black students to “psychoeducational” programs, segregating them not just by disability but also by race.

Such psychoeducational schools are unique to Georgia, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported (bit.ly/23sedDJ).

Black children form the majority at the programs, where teachers restrained children with dog leashes; 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, the Atlanta newspaper reported.

The paper found that 54 percent of students in Georgia’s psychoeducational programs are African-American, compared to 37 percent in all public schools statewide.

State education officials deny race plays a role in student assignment. Rather, they contend that individual needs determine where students receive services. However, they offer no explanation for the racial disparities, the Journal-Constitution reported.

Attorneys representing the state have also told federal officials that many complaints about the programs rely on “outdated information,” partly because the state has outlawed seclusion in locked rooms as a form of punishment and limited the use of physical restraints, the newspaper reported.

Others, however, say they believe there is a bias at work in the grouping together of black children who are deemed disruptive or even threatening.

About 3,382 students were assigned last fall to the psychoeducational programs, formally known as the Georgia Network for Educational and Therapeutic Support, or GNETS.

“As a black kid, you keep getting in trouble,” Craig Goodmark, a lawyer with Atlanta Legal Aid who represents families of disabled children, told the newspaper.

“You get in trouble, there are no mental health services,” Goodmark said. “The only mental health services are in the GNETS. That sort of combines to create a reality.”

No other state operates a network of psychoeducational facilities like Georgia’s, the Atlanta newspaper reported.

The U.S. Department of Justice has said that it is unnecessary.

“Nearly all students in the GNETS program could receive services in more integrated settings,” the agency said in a letter to Georgia officials last year, “but do not have the opportunity to do so.”

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