The racially incendiary postings of a New Orleans school psychologist are symptomatic of a prejudicial attitude toward Black and special needs students in Louisiana’s Jefferson Parish, a civil rights organization alleges in a discrimination complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Education.

Mark Traina, who had worked with alternative schools and was responsible for referring students to those campuses, has a history of vitriolic Internet rantings against young Blacks in New Orleans, according to a civil rights group.

“Young Black Thugs who won’t follow the law need to be put down not incarcerated. Put down like the Dogs they are!” he said in a January comment posted on his Twitter account.

“Young Black Thugs have created an atmosphere of Fear throughout America. The Real Terrorist live among us! Not over seas (sic)! Right here and now,” he wrote on Jan. 14. He later commented, “New Orleans is the S–T WHOLE (sic) of the SOUTH! Come to N. O. and some Black Guy will rob, rape and kill you shortly after you arrive!”

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) said such comments buttress their claims of racial bias in the Jefferson Parish Public School System’s alternative school policies. The group filed a federal civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Education May 17, alleging that the parish unfairly funnels Black students and students with disabilities into alternative schools, where they are corralled for months or years before being allowed to return to a mainstream school.

Students with disabilities account for 52 percent of referrals to alternative schools, when they represent only 11 percent of the district’s student population. And Black students account for 78 percent of all alternative school referrals even though they are only 46 percent of the district’s student population.

“Jefferson Parish’s alternative school policies are cutting short the futures of countless African-American students and students with disabilities,” said Eden Heilman, senior staff attorney for the SPLC’s Louisiana office. “If the district cares about providing a quality education to all of its students, it will end these discriminatory policies.”

SPLC also alleged in its complaint to the agency’s Office of Civil Rights that students are often referred to alternative schools for incidents of minor misconduct such as disrespectful behavior, use of profanity, disrupting class and horseplay.

And, the complaint says, Black students and those with disabilities are often kept out of the school system’s mainstream longer than White students. Black high school students have an average stay of 115.3 days in alternative school, compared to 74.4 days for White high school students. And students with disabilities average a whopping 223.9 days, compared to an average stay of 94.5 days for students without disabilities.

“School discipline should never deprive a child of an education, but, sadly, that is what happens every day the Jefferson Parish school district continues enforcing these discriminatory policies,” Heilman said.

The current complaint follows another filed in January that alleged racial disparity in arrests based on behavior in school.

According to The Times-Picayune, a major newspaper in Louisiana, Traina refuted SPLC’s assertions in comments made on the publication’s website.

“The Southern Poverty Center knows that these allegations are ABSOLUTELY NOT TRUE!,” Traina wrote in an education forum on NOLA.com last week. “This is just another way to harass the Jefferson Parish Public School System. One only needs to read the Times Picayune to see who the real trouble makers are. Sadly, it is disproportionately young Black males. Everyone knows that our jails throughout the United States are disproportionately filled with Black people. Why would the rate be any different in an educational environment?”

 

Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO