DOJ investigating Georgia’s special education system

The Southern Poverty Law Center announced April 5 that the U.S. Department of Justice is opening an investigation into whether the state of Georgia’s education system violates the Americans with Disabilities Act by unnecessarily segregating special education students into isolated settings.

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Education Funding Challenged

The SPLC filed a complaint with the department’s Office of Civil Rights in November. The complaint targets the state’s Quality Basic Education Act funding formula, which provides additional funding to schools for high risk students while, the SPLC allege, failing to fund programs and paraprofessionals to support students capable of integrating into regular classrooms.

These twin policies, the SPLC alleges, have the combined effect of incentivizing schools to “pull out” special education students from the regular classroom and place them in less inclusive settings.

“Although founded on important principles, Georgia’s funding system has become outdated and has failed to adapt to the legal requirement that students with disabilities be included with their typical peer to the maximum extent appropriate,” the complaint states. “Rather than encourage integration, the QBE funding formula discriminates against students with disabilities by unnecessarily prompting their placement in segregated environments.”

For the SPLC, the decision of whether to place a student in a regular learning environment or a classroom consisting entirely of other special education students should depend on the student’s capabilities, not the school’s budgets.

“Students with disabilities often face discrimination by teachers and their peers due to assumptions about what it means to have a disability,” said Jadine Johnson, a staff attorney with the SPLC, in an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.