Parents of children with disabilities and advocacy groups filed a lawsuit in federal court last week alleging that the state of Georgia discriminates against students with behavioral disorders – continuing an ongoing legal battle for the rights of these children.
Georgia is the only state that operates segregated psychoeducational facilities. It does so through the Georgia Network for Educational and Therapeutic Support (GNETS), which runs separate programs in 132 regular schools, as well as 53 completely segregated psychoeducational centers.
According the the lawsuit, the GNETS places these students in an “unequal and separate’’ environment – often in substandard buildings or wings of regular schools, where their educational experience differs vastly from their non-disabled peers.
In fact, the U.S. Department of Justice said in 2015 that the state’s GNETS program is illegal under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The current lawsuit says academic instruction is poor, and that GNETS students “do not have access to courses and extracurricular activities routinely available to their non-disabled peers.”
Not only do they not receive the same academic opportunities, the lawsuit says, they don’t receive the services needed to improve their behaviors. These children have a range of conditions such as autism, emotional behavior disorder, anxiety and intellectual disabilities, and some have experienced trauma.
Rather than an informed and understanding approach, the students often receive substandard treatment from untrained teachers. At times, they even face disturbing, unethical practices, such as being provoked into self-harming behaviors.
“Often their behavior worsens when placed in GNETS because of the harsh and punitive atmosphere that prevails’’ in those schools, the lawsuit says.
The DOJ found that some GNETS centers are in inferior buildings that formerly served as schools for black students in the Jim Crow era.
This is particularly damning, considering that the suit says the majority of GNETS students are African-American.
Of course, parents and advocates are forced to battle the state into treating these students with the basic care and respect they deserve.