Department of Justice Finds Georgia Segregated Schools Violate the ADA
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has just released its findings in an ADA complaint against the Georgia Department of Education that the state education agency violated Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act
"...by its 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."
The Georgia Department of Education had used the GNETS Program since the 1970s to educate students with disabilities, primarily behavior related disabilities. In its findings DOJ noted:
"Today, the GNETS Program consists of a network of 24 regions operated by the State, which serve approximately 5,000 students at any given time, all of whom have behavior-related disabilities. More than two-thirds of all students in the GNETS Program attend school in regional GNETS centers (the “GNETS Centers”), which are generally located in self-contained buildings that serve only students with disabilities from multiple school districts. Other students in the Program attend school in regional GNETS school-based classrooms (the “GNETS Classrooms”), which serve only children with disabilities and, although the classrooms are located within general education school buildings, they are often not the students’ zoned general education schools."
These thousands of students with disabilities were unnecessarily segregated from their peers depriving them of:
"... the opportunity to benefit from the stimulation and range of interactions that occur there, including opportunities to learn, observe, and be influenced by their non-disabled peers. Even in GNETS Classrooms that are physically located in general education school buildings, many students placed in the Classrooms are unnecessarily segregated from their peers because the Classrooms are often located in separate wings or isolated parts of school buildings, some of which are locked and/or fenced off from spaces used for general education programs."
Students in the GNETS program did not receive grade level instruction that met state standards like the instruction provided to their peers without disabilities. Particularly in high school, DOJ noted:
"...students in the GNETS Program often receive only computer-based instruction. By contrast, their peers in general education classrooms generally receive instruction from a teacher certified in the subject matter they are teaching, and in the case of students with disabilities, also from a teacher certified in special education. Students in the GNETS Program also often lack access to electives and extracurricular activities, such as after-school athletics or clubs. Moreover, many of the students in the GNETS Program attend school in inferior facilities in various states of disrepair that lack many of the features and amenities of general education schools, such as gymnasiums, cafeterias, libraries, science labs, music rooms, or playgrounds. Some GNETS Centers are located in poor-quality buildings that formerly served as schools for black students during de jure segregation, which have been repurposed to house the GNETS Program."
To resolve the complaint, DOJ stated that the the state could reasonably modify its policies, programs, and services to ensure students with disabilities at risk of placement in the segregated program were not discriminated against. This could be accomplished by:
"properly evaluating or reevaluating students’ service needs and whether those needs can be met in general education classes or schools; applying entrance and exit standards for the Program that are appropriate, clearly identified, equitably applied, and shared with all students and families; redirecting the State’s resources to offer effective behavioral and mental health and educational services for students with behavior-related disabilities in, or at risk of placement in, the GNETS Program in the most integrated setting appropriate for them; and ensuring that students in the GNETS Program with behavior-related disabilities are provided educational and extracurricular opportunities equal to those of their peers in general education."