Excerpts from my chapter in the Handbook of Research on Challenging Deficit Thinking for Exceptional Education Improvement (IGI Global )

Chapter 18 pages 380-404

Re-Mediating Narratives: Exceptional Children in Captivity

Page 380

ABSTRACT

This chapter draws from the experiences of a veteran educator teaching and learning with youths in a public high school located within a juvenile detention center between 2014-2018. Integrating the discourse of five young people who graduated from high school while in the juvenile detention center, the author demonstrates how the young people confront and re-mediate deficit-based narratives laden with the stereotypes that often surround students with exceptionalities in simultaneous, intersectional ways. Research specifically focused on young people who manage to graduate from high school while attending schools in JDCs (especially youth who identify as disabled or have been identified as having a disability) is significantly sparse. Furthermore, disability is often missing during analyses of incarceration and resistance. This chapter seeks to contribute to this understudied domain.     

Pages 381-382

“Remediation” has typically been associated with the labeling of those who are perceived as having deficiencies in the knowledge and/or skills deemed as necessary to complete schoolwork as defined by an institution (U.S. Department of Education [USDOE], 1996). Remediation is also described as a “process of identifying the need to take action to remedy a situation that, if left unresolved, will result in unfavorable outcomes” (Culleiton, 2009, p. 26). Narratives can function as tools for repositioning, re-mediating, resisting, and/or reconstituting associations of remediation with deficits into new discourses of re-mediation. A re-mediation is transformative and centers learners’ experiences in ways that are inclusive, robust, and critical. Although sense-making through narratives is a socially constructed and collaborative activity, our mediations of lived experiences also occur within ideological and dominant structures and systems (Cruz, 2019). Roland Barthes (1975) notes the ubiquitous presence of narratives stating that “narrative is present in every age, in every place, in every society… All classes, all human groups, have their narratives (p. 237). Thus, a re-mediating of narratives is an accessible and generative strategy for countering stigmatizing and damage-laden language or stories even within oppressive systems and structures.

Page 389

A Case Study

My aim is to incorporate youths’ narratives while contributing to this less-studied domain of exceptional youth who manage to graduate from high school despite being situated in multiple state-created and regulated enclosures. In order “to permit inquiry into and understanding of a phenomenon in-depth” (Patton, 2002, p. 46) young people who were ages 14-18 and were residing in a Midwestern city as well as artifacts from the years they were detained by the state (2014-2018), were purposefully selected for this case study. In the tradition of a case study, a non-random qualitative approach was embraced to “explore processes, activities, and events” (Creswell, 2018, p. 183) involving the educational experiences and survival strategies of youth gaining a high school diploma as they negotiate institutions and processes in a school-prison nexus and its interrelationships.

Page 391

DISABLING, DIS-LOCATING, DISPOSABLE

Researchers at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) found that experiencing detention before the age of 21 is “associated with even worse adult physical and mental health outcomes” (Barnert et al., 2019, p. 342). Previous studies have shown the negative psychological and educational effects when students such as those incarcerated are stressed, anxious, and uncertain about their futures (Picou & Marshall, 2007). Furthermore, interruptions to schooling potentially incur a greater negative effect on the learning of exceptional children with special educational needs (Cooper et al, 1996). In fact, citing Katsiyannis (1991) Cooper et al. (1996) note “Many states mandate extended-year programs for students with physical or learning disabilities because they recognize these children’s need for continuous instruction” (p. 229). Therefore, highly stressful uncertainty related to juvenile court proceedings for system-ensnared youths, interruptions to youths’ participation in local community schools, and a lack of attention or oversight by officials regarding the types of educational opportunities available to youth in juvenile detention centers, amalgamate to target certain young people for negative life circumstances and outcomes. Using discourse from the transcripts of the five youths interviewed, this section illuminates their critical awareness regarding the social and political violences they must navigate and lends to imagining the creativity and exhaustive persistence required for them to earn a high school diploma.

Finding Educational Justice in the Justice System for Students with Disabilities

Post for Special Education Consultants Group     

In Cuyahoga County, Ohio, students can be adjudicated prior to age 18, or sent from the juvenile detention center once they reach age 18, to the adult county jail pending the outcome of their case. A couple years ago, I learned that access to education services are scarce to nonexistent at the adult county facility in Cuyahoga County. Appalled for all students, I began reaching out to local government officials at the county level. Outside of a meeting with a community liaison at the county executive’s office during the summer of 2015, I was largely ignored or dismissed. I then began reaching out to the Ohio Department of Education, Disability Rights Ohio, and to representatives and senators on a national level, lobbying my senators and representative in Washington, D.C., during the summer of 2015. At the end of the summer, I realized that most folks in government don’t really give a rat’s tail about this practically invisible population of students. It was also then that it occurred to me that a significant number of the students sent to languish at the county facility for extended lengths of time without access to education, often still had active Individual Education Plans under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and that not offering services was a violation of their civil rights. I filed a complaint with the Department of Justice against the state of Ohio because students are assigned to the Buckeye United School District once they leave the county juvenile facility for the county adult facility. The Buckeye United School District includes schools under the Ohio Department of Youth Services.  

    Meanwhile, the State Deputy Director from Senator Sherrod Brown’s office responded to my outreach and agreed to visit my students at the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Detention Center, and to listen to my stories and theirs. When I did not get a timely response from the DOJ, Senator Sherrod Brown’s office followed up for me, and I received an update within a week. I also traveled to Boston in December of 2015 to meet and ask a question of Bryan Stevenson about the students I serve, and the situation of youth in adult detention facilities.

    The case initiated by my complaint was eventually transferred to the United States Department of Education’s Civil Rights Office in Cleveland, Ohio. An investigation is currently open and pending as of the summer of 2016. I do not believe that I need to explain to this educated group of people how damaging and negatively life-changing a lack of education, or the deprivation of education, can be on our young people caught in the juvenile or adult justice system. When students fight back (with the help of advocates), they receive compensatory school time, thus I have a former student in Mansfield now on an active IEP until he is 22 because he spent a year without access to education waiting at the adult county facility. For students already struggling academically, a year away from education cannot ever really be compensated. Due to the large number of people incarcerated who have disabilities and are between the ages of 18-21, I am creating awareness about this issue so that other people who care about the rights of students with disabilities can also advocate for those entangled in the very complicated maze of juvenile and adult criminal justice systems. There are many entrances into this maze, but the exits are few and infrequently include a high school diploma for those who experience it. Our communities would all be better places if that changed.

With hope for a means to justice and education for all,

Melissa