DOJ sues Georgia school system over segregation of students with disabilities

The Department of Justice sued the state of Georgia on August 23, accusing it of systematically violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by segregating thousands of students with disabilities in a separate, inferior educational system.

“This complaint alleges that many children in the (Georgia Network for Education and Therapeutic Support Network) Program are consigned to dilapidated buildings that were formerly used for black children during segregation, or to classrooms that are locked apart from mainstream classrooms, with substantially fewer opportunities of participating in extracurricular activities like music, art and sports,” said U.S. Attorney John A. Horn of the Northern District of Georgia in a news release.

During the 2014-15 school year, about 4,600 students with “behavioral-related” disabilities were enrolled in the GNETS program. About two-thirds of these students are in separate facilities apart from the regular school system, while the rest are in separate GNETS classrooms.

In one of the schools investigated by the DOJ, students in the GNETS program enter the school through a basement entrance, never interacting with the rest of the student body, the complaint states. A large sign at the front of the GNETS classroom says “DETENTION.”

The vast majority of students in the GNETS lacks access to electives, facilities, and extracurricular activities, the lawsuit alleges, as well as “gyms, cafeterias, libraries, science labs, music rooms or playgrounds.”

“The GNETS Centers severely restrict interactions between students with disabilities and their peers in general education, depriving students in GNETS of the opportunity to benefit from the stimulation and range of interactions that occur in general education schools, including opportunities to learn with, observe, and be influenced by their non-disabled peers,” the lawsuit states.

Moreover, the lawsuit alleges, thousands of other students are at risk of entering the GNETS program, despite being capable of receiving education in a more integrated setting. In particular, the DOJ alleges that the state of Georgia does not provide enough mental health and therapeutic supports, or academic training and technical resources for its educational institutions.

The DOJ’s Civil Rights Division first investigated the GNETS program back in 2015. That July, it issued a Letter of Findings [PDF], detailing most of the allegations raised in the lawsuit.

The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.