Well, Georgia is getting sued by Uncle Sam again. Equal rights and equal opportunities for all? Ha. What a joke in this state.
For over eight months, the Dept. of Justice and the State of Georgia have been in negotiations about the treatment of students with behavioral and mental health problems that are currently in segregated facilities. It is a violation of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) to segregate students from non-disabled peers, unless it is necessary (i.e. necessary to provide equal access to programs and services).
With no clear agreement between the DOJ and Georgia coming anytime soon, the DOJ just sent the state a letter of their intent to sue.
GNETS, the Georgia Network for Educational and Therapeutic Support, runs separate programs in 132 regular schools, as well as 53 completely segregated psychoeducational centers. These programs keep students completely separated from their non-disabled peers.
A 2015 letter from the DOJ to Gov. Nathan Deal and Attorney General Sam Olens documents students with disabilities dealing with prison-like conditions in substandard buildings.
In documenting conditions at the Woodall GNETS program in Columbus, Ga., the letter states:
We observed that the window air conditioners work only sporadically, and the interior of the building was dirty. There was no gymnasium for physical education. A general education high school located just a few miles away is a brand new facility with spaces for sports, arts, and vocational education.
One parent told the DOJ investigators, “It’s a warehouse for kids the school system doesn’t want or know how to deal with.”
In May of this year, the AJC ran a three part special on GNETS, also documenting the disturbing conditions students face.
One family even had to sue the state over plans to intentionally provoke a child to inflict self harm in order to evaluate triggers. The mom told the AJC, “It seemed surreal, that you wouldn’t understand this child was suffering from her traumatic past.”
In 2004, there was a student who committed suicide at school, after being placed in a solitary confinement room — without furniture, windows, a bathroom or running water — 19 times over 29 days. The final time, with a rope tied around their pants to hold them up.
The AJC also reported on the disproportionate use of restraints:
Last year alone, the 24 psychoeducational programs, with 3,400 students, recorded almost five more restraints than all 2,300 of Georgia’s other public schools combined.”
“Any time you put hands on a kid, there is some level of increased risk of someone being hurt,” said Dan Crimmins, director of the Center for Leadership in Disability at Georgia State University.”
Currently, Georgia is facing a lawsuit regarding how it treats adults with developmental disabilities or severe mental health conditions. Concerns about how Georgia treats people with severe behavioral and mental health challenges, and their use of segregated and unequal facilities, are present in both lawsuits.
The DOJ, in their most recent letter to Gov. Deal and AG Olens states their intent to sue. Georgia is the only state that operates segregated psychoeducational facilities, and it is not necessary. GNETS students have reported their isolation from other students trickles down to even the every aspect of school, like (not) getting a locker or (not) being included in the yearbook.
In the letter, the DOJ acknowledges that Georgia is increasing their investment in these facilities, programs and students. However, some of these investments or changes actually reflect obligations the state already has to these students.
It’s disturbing when Georgia’s legal counsel is being told, “As you are aware…the State is already required to review the IEP’s [individual education plan] of every student in GNETS each year,” after trying to earn a cookie from the DOJ for this “improvement.”
So kudos for actually, you know, doing what you are supposed to do. A+.
The DOJ ultimately concludes, “We are not convinced that those efforts, provided in segregated settings, are designed to achieve equality of educational opportunity.”
Shocking…to no one. Georgia will once again need to be dragged kicking and screaming into a future where they treat everybody with respect and dignity.
If you would like to learn more about the abuses documented in Georgia’s psycho-ed schools, and the impending legal battles, check out the July 15, 2015 letter from the Department of Justice to Gov. Deal and AG Olens. Additionally, check out the May 2016 three part series by the AJC that can be found here, here and here, and the most recent August 15, 2016 letter stating the DOJ’s intent to sue.