DOJ slams “segregated” Georgia school system

little African American girl sits alone in a hallway
DOJ: Separate is Not Equal Education

In a letter sent to state officials July 15 [PDF], the Department of Justice accused the state of Georgia of segregating thousands of students with behavior-related disabilities in separate, inferior educational placements.

“We conclude that the State violates the (Americans with Disabilities Act) 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 to participate in services that are unequal to the services offered to students outside the GNETS program,” the letter states.

Under the Georgia Network for Educational and Therapeutic Supports (GNETS) program, about 3,100 students are educated in separate GNETS centers across the state. As detailed in the letter, most of these centers – many of which were once exclusively for black students during the Jim Crow era – lack facilities for extracurricular activities, air conditioning and other basic features of modern school systems.

Nearly another 2,000 students are placed in GNETS classrooms within the regular public school system. However, the DOJ argues that these students are similarly isolated.

For example, in one school highlighted in the letter, students in the GNETS program enter their schools through a separate entrance. Unlike the rest of the student body, they are forced to go through a metal detector. They use separate bathrooms. Although they are allowed to use the school cafeteria, they may only do so during a separate lunch period.

“The GNETS program has perpetrated ‘deep, persistent and unrelenting segregation, literally for decades,’” Ruby Moore, executive director of the Georgia Advocacy Office, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “This has been a long time coming.”

Under Title II of the ADA, schools may not unnecessarily segregate students on the basis of their disabilities and must provide these students opportunities equal to that of their peers. In addition, they must provide reasonable accommodations these students, provided that to do so would not constitute a fundamental alteration of the school’s services.

In the letter, the DOJ recommends a range of remedial measures the state can take to come into compliance with the ADA. If such measures are not taken, the DOJ stated that it will commence litigation.

The Georgia Advocacy Office and Disability Rights Washington, the publisher of Rooted in Rights, are part of the federally funded protection and advocacy system and members of the National Disability Rights Network.