Feds Sue: Georgia’s Segregated Schools for Kids with Disabilities Are Illegal

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On August 23, 2016, the United States Department of Justice filed suit against the State of Georgia for discriminating against thousands of public school students with behavior and emotional disabilities by placing these students in a separate and unequal educational program.

The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, alleges that Georgia’s services for students with behavior-related disabilities

unnecessarily segregates students with disabilities in GNETS when they could appropriately be served with their peers in general education settings.

This program, known as the Georgia Network for Educational and Therapeutic Support Program (“GNETS”), has been financed, operated and administered by the State of Georgia since 1970.

The lawsuit is the first challenge to a state-run school system for segregating students with disabilities.

Press Release:   https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/justice-department-sues-georgia-unnecessarily-segregating-students-disabilities

Federal Court Complaint:   https://www.ada.gov/olmstead//documents/gnets_complaint.html

Background of Georgia Discrimination Case

In 2011, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) filed a civil rights complaint against GNETS for systemic unnecessary reliance on the segregated GNETS Program across the State of Georgia, as a result of the State’s administration, operation, and funding of the GNETS Program, including the GNETS Program’s admissions, services, and facilities.

https://www.splcenter.org/news/2015/07/24/after-splc-complaint-doj-finds-georgia-program-violates-disabilities-act

Four years after the SPLC complaint, the U.S. Department of Justice issued an “extensive findings letter” determined that Georgia discriminated against students with disabilities by segregating them from other students.

The Letter of Finding to Georgia Governor Deal and Attorney General Olens (July 15, 2015) concluded that Georgia:

violates the ADA and discriminates against children with disabilities by unnecessarily relying on, and creating incentives for school districts to choose, a segregated GNETS program to provide behavioral and mental health services, and by providing students in the GNETS Program opportunities to participate in services that are unequal to the services offered to students outside the GNETS Program.

https://www.ada.gov/olmstead/documents/gnets_lof.pdf

The U.S. Department of Justice is involved in discrimination cases in other states, including Ohio, Mississippi, South Dakota, Oregon, West Virginia, Alabama, and Pennsylvania.

You can read about these cases, investigations, and other ADA Olmstead Enforcement efforts here:

https://www.ada.gov/olmstead//olmstead_cases_list2.htm

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Courtney

As a parent of a child in special ed (as well as a former educator with a special ed unit in AL, and a current professional education advocate in GA) who moved to Georgia this year from an inclusive school system in Alabama, I have been consistently disappointed and frustrated by schools in Georgia. I don’t understand how any of this is allowed? Even if you want to provide parents with an option, how often are parents of special needs children fully equipped with the information they need to make these choices? I, personally, was NOT presented with an option, and was told that clustered special ed units was just how things are done in our county. I am beyond fed up.

Marcus

I want to add that I think they are jumping the gun on this. Some parents may have agreed to this type of setting in order for their children to receive FAPE. Some children simply cannot function in the General Education Setting and need these types of places. Some parents do look for these types of programs to ensure that their children get the proper help and supports needed. I think the FEDS need to take that into consideration.

chanti

Agreed! The GNETS program greatly helped my children succeed!

Jill

Chanti – you are the parent I want to hear from! What campus did your kids attend? What grades / duration? Were there learning disabilities/challenges or behavioral issues or both? What kind of “services” did they receive? I need to hear a success story in the worst way!!

Jill

Marcus – This is not the first time the DOJ has taken issue with GNETS. If a child has emotional / behavioral problems (read: mental health issues, ADD, ADHD and kids on the spectrum with behavioral issues), they do NOT receive any of the services or supports they SHOULD receive as part of their IEP in their “regular” school. Parents watch them struggle, become depressed, lose self-esteem. Then the IEP team tells them these services are available at GNETS. So, yeah some parents agree b/c they don’t know any better. They envision settings with smaller class sizes, specially trained teachers, specified services, etc. But GNETS is NOT providing that. There is nothing therapeutic about the environment. Things go from bad to worse. It is $75M of waste!

Jill

I have been trying to find the current status of this case. I tried to check the filings/docket with the US District Court for the Northern District of GA, and I could only find the original filing. No civil action number assigned. No response filed. The filing is asking for a declaratory judgement. If the state fails to reply, doesn’t the judge have to find for the plantiff? The next question would be how to enforce the judgement…. I’m working on a due diligence filing (w/o representation) and would love to be current on this case as this is my state, and GNETS factors into my complaint. Anyone know where I haven’t looked yet?

Chuck

Check with your state parent training & information center. http://www.parentcenterhub.org/find-your-center Also your state has a disability rights agency. In most states it goes by as Disability Rights – (state’s name).

Marcus

What if the IEP team agreed to this placement? Some parents do look for segregated school to ensure their children get the proper services and supports they need.

Anne

How does this align with placement standards, which allows for students to be moved from a charter or public alternative school to another school because the district states their home school is able to provide services, and they are not? The school states that districts, not schools have an obligation to meet requirements.

Carol

These centers are not even considered schools, they are a segregated “program”. Students are referred to these by the school districts and parents are not given alternative choices of placement as the district says these children must go there………

Libby

The GA DOE is also revising a rule for the GNETS which seeks to increase the opportunity of ALL students with challenging behaviors to be in the most restrictive or placement, which is not a school, but a program. The draft rule also allows the IEP committee to determine what a FAPE is for the child. Thus, parents signing in approval will be saying their child received a FAPE. This draft rule, if adopted will be very bad law. They are using this rule to fight the allegation that they do not provide a FAPE statewide. This will be a bad rule that will limit parents’ rights to due process, freedom of speech, meaningful participation, and recently LEA’s have started disallowing advocates if the parent fails to notify the LEA before meetings. They are fighting back in an ugly way.