The Southern Poverty Law Center has filed two federal civil rights complaints against the Jefferson Parish school system for allegedly discriminating against black and disabled students and sending them to alternative schools, where they often languish for months or even years before returning to school. Now the civil rights organization is highlighting racially charged comments made by one of the district’s psychologists as evidence of potential racial biases.
“Young Black Thugs who won’t follow the law need to be put down not incarcerated. Put down like the Dogs they are!” read one tweet made by Mark Traina, the Jefferson Parish school psychologist, who has worked with alternative schools and in central administration.
On Monday, the Times-Picayune reported Traina worked in central administration with the process of referring children to alternative campuses.
In another tweet about the Republican presidential primaries in March, Traina wrote, “I grew up in Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana - I am a Wallace Man at Heart!”
“It’s particularly alarming to have someone who works for the school system in a position of authority be pro-segregation,” Eden Heilman, a lawyer with the Southern Poverty Law Center told NOLA.com, referring to Traina’s remark about George Wallace, segregationist governor of Alabama.
“The Southern Poverty Center knows that these allegations are ABSOLUTELY NOT TRUE!,” Traina wrote in an education forum on NOLA.com last week. “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,” Traina went on to ask.
The Southern Poverty Law Center complaint filed with the department’s Office of Civil Rights claims the district’s alternative school policies have resulted in students with disabilities accounting for 52 percent of referrals to alternative schools, when they represent only 11 percent of the district’s student population. Black students account for 78 percent of all alternative school referrals even though they are only 46 percent of the district’s student population.