Lawsuit Says Georgia School Segregates Students with Disabilities

(Photo: Pexels, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Pexels, Creative Commons)

Georgia’s state-run school for disabled children is being challenged by the U.S. Government in a formal lawsuit that states that the Georgia Network for Educational and Therapeutic Support (GNETS) violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and is unlawful segregation.

The students at the school are considered to have behavioral or emotional disorders, writes Allen Cone for UPI. The Justice Department believes that these students could instead be placed in general education schools:

Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, says “That goes to show how young students are who are being funneled into segregated settings.”

The lawsuit won’t force GNETS to shut down all of its operations, but would require that it place its students in the setting most appropriate to their needs. Nearly 4,600 students are currently in GNETS programs.

The lawsuit alleges that GNETS limits its students’ access to extracurricular activities, as stated by the Department of Justice. The Department of Justice further purports that many of the students in GNETS have issues that are handled in general public schools by other professionals so that the segregation is completely unnecessary.

“Seventeen years ago, the Supreme Court made clear that states must serve people with disabilities, including children with disabilities, in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs. Georgia has relegated thousands of students with behavior-related disabilities to separate, segregated and unequal settings, and placed other students at serious risk of entering such settings, failing to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act,” Gupta continues.

One facility had its students confined to a basement and had absolutely no interaction between the students. The lawsuit states that several schools that GNETS employs are old and dilapidated, with some even being the same schools that African-American students were segregated to during the Jim Crow era.

There have been improvements, writes Alan Judd of AJC. There has been a ban on the isolation of students and nine GNETS schools have been closed for health and safety reasons, but this has not remedied the situation completely.

GNETS and Georgia school officials have responded in defense of their practices:

Georgia School Superintendent Richard Woods stated, “We just received the notification from DOJ and we are analyzing it. GNETS is a critical resource for the children it serves, many of whom would otherwise face isolation in residential treatment facilities. We are disappointed in the DOJ’s decision to sue, especially given the tremendous efforts we’ve put into enhancing the educational experience for the small percentage of children who receive education services from GNETS programs. We believe these efforts are working, and we have communicated that to the DOJ. GNETS programs remain a legal alternative for children for whom placement in the general education population is not, at least for some period of time, an effective or appropriate option. We will continue to make the wellbeing of these children our first priority.”

This lawsuit has come after months of negotiations between the Department of Justice and lawyers for the state of Georgia. No compromise could be found during those meetings and no further negotiations are underway. The legal avenue appears to be how the Justice Department wishes to garner academic opportunities for GNETS students.

One report on GNETS found that a large portion of its students are African-American. While the lawsuit does not directly deal with this issue, the Justice Department does believe that it will solve that disparity because of how it will remedy the situation.