BADD in Georgia

May 1 is Blogging Against Disableism Day

Blogging Against Disableism Day is almost over in my time zone. Finals are breathing down my neck, and I have to be finished moving to a new place across town almost simultaneously. I have no time to say anything, but I have something to say:

The state calls them GNETs. I usually call them ‘our scary, underground network of segregated schools’ because I think that does a better job of communicating what they are.

My state is warehousing children, mostly boys of color, in substandard, segregated schools. Some of these children have support needs related to disabilities that are or could be diagnosed. Others just acted out in school. Some of these facilities meet in the dungeon-like basements of regular schools. Others are in places where the state warehoused Black students before the end of Jim Crow. The state calls them GNETs. I usually call them ‘our scary, underground network of segregated schools’ because I think that does a better job of communicating what they are. The U.S. Department of Justice said that this is illegal a while ago. The state’s response has been slow and less-than-apologetic.

I hate to say it, but none of this surprises me. Georgia has a painful history when it comes to race and disability. The struggle to end de jure segregation and the period when we had one of the biggest and worst public mental institutions in the word are both within living memory. This is the kind of stuff that has a long half-life in history and culture. I doubt we will really get out from under either of those long shadows in my lifetime.

Something else about this, though, surprises and disturbs me. I hoped that media coverage of the GNETs would get ordinary people upset. I thought people would look at the GNETs and see this system for what it is: a Frankenstein’s monster made of reanimated bits of some of the worst parts of Georgia’s history. This is as flagrant and scandalous as it gets. The likes, shares, and retweets, though, are only occasionally in keeping with the size of the story. I hope people are so outraged that they are calling state leaders instead of talking about this online, but I suspect something else: outside of the circles that always care about these kinds of thing, there may not be much concern. It was disconcerting to see sparse comment sections under articles in the Atlanta paper and opinions like this:

“ It is a waste to expend any taxpayer resources on these students, we don’t need this burden on society.”

Why are these severely emotionally disturbed kids in the school system… They are Adam Lanzas in the making… Their parents … should be paying for them to be in a hospital.”

These comments, by people who have the courage to flout ‘political correctness’ so long as they can hide behind their pseudonyms, show that ableism/disableism is alive and well in Georgia. Its consequences are especially toxic whenever it mixes with racism. I hope the GNETs close soon. I hope these children are included in regular classrooms and get the support they need. I hope Georgia can stop stigmatizing disability and turn off the school-to-prison pipeline. I hope, most of all, for cultural change, more concern for what happens to vulnerable people. I have gone down to the old state hospital, sat in the silent, dusty train depot where many more people came in than went home, and read the state’s records of what happened there.

I saw vulnerable people forgotten over and over again. Conditions would degenerate to a level that shocked the public conscience. The public would step in for a while and then lose interest. Conditions would degenerate again. Until we throw ableism away and value everyone, until we get rid of the idea that out-of-sight-out-of-mind is ever a safe place for a vulnerable person to be, we will keep warehousing people. We will keep finding that the places where we put them have become substandard or worse. Closing the GNETs would be a positive step, but we will find ourselves in this position again unless we decide that we want something else to happen and take a long, hard look at our values.

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