You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to myAJC.com

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.

GREAT REASONS TO SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

  • IN-DEPTH REPORTING
  • INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING
  • NEW TOPICS & COVERAGE
  • ePAPER
X

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks

X

Welcome to myAJC.com

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on myAJC.com.

Feds will sue Georgia over segregated ‘psychoeducational’ schools


For at least six months, state and federal officials swapped proposals and counterproposals on what to do about Georgia’s unique system of so-called psychoeducational schools.

But neither side budged on the key issue: whether Georgia could continue segregating children with behavioral and emotional disabilities.

Now the U.S. Department of Justice says it will file a lawsuit claiming the state violates the civil rights of students assigned to the Georgia Network for Educational and Therapeutic Support, or GNETS.

With negotiations stalled, “we have determined that we must pursue the United States’ claims in federal court to vindicate the rights of thousands of affected students with behavior-related disabilities across Georgia,” Vanita Gupta, who heads the department’s civil rights division, wrote Monday to Gov. Nathan Deal and other state officials.

The Justice Department has accused Georgia of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires disabled students to be educated as often as possible with children who are not impaired. The agency will seek nothing short of closing the 24 GNETS programs, according to lawyers familiar with the case.

“I don’t see a way where a segregated program can exist in a post-ADA world,” said Craig Goodmark, an Atlanta lawyer who represents students with disabilities.

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment. Deal’s spokeswoman said she wasn’t aware of the letter.

The Justice Department notified state officials in July 2015 that an investigation found illegal segregation in GNETS, the only statewide network of its kind. The department described schools where students with disabilities had no contact with children who are not disabled. Often, disabled students were confined in decrepit buildings that lacked libraries, gyms, science labs and other commonplace features. Some of the buildings housed black students during the Jim Crow era.

In May, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Georgia schools assign a vastly disproportionate number of African-American students to GNETS programs. The newspaper also examined psychological experimentation by a GNETS psychologist, as well as the extensive use of physical restraint to control children’s behavior. Since 2014, restraints were used nearly 10,000 times — five times more than at the state’s other 2,300 public schools combined.

Gupta’s letter said state and federal lawyers negotiated for eight months, meeting in person four times and by telephone on numerous occasions.

The state’s legal bills, obtained by the Journal-Constitution, show that both sides drafted several proposed agreements to settle the case without a lawsuit. A draft memorandum of understanding circulated among the lawyers in April, and the state was preparing a new proposal as late as May.

The bills indicate the lawyers considered at least six proposed agreements.

“You’d hope they would have agreed on some points,” said Leslie Lipson, a lawyer with the Georgia Advocacy Office who has handled numerous GNETS cases. “There is not a single agreement that came to fruition.”

As negotiations wound down, the state focused on the poor physical condition of GNETS buildings. Last month, citing safety and health concerns, state officials ordered nine facilities immediately shut down. Lawyers for the state said the move reflected a commitment to “enhance the educational experience” of GNETS students.

But the students were merely transferred to other buildings – still segregated by disability.

“These efforts suggest the state intends to continue to fund, operate and administer a separate, segregated and unequal statewide service system,” Gupta wrote Monday.

She added: “We are not convinced that those efforts, provided in segregated settings, are designed to achieve equality of educational opportunity.”

States rarely prevail in civil-rights cases brought by the Justice Department, lawyers said; many such investigations end with negotiated settlements. Typically, courts appoint a monitor to oversee a state’s efforts to correct violations. Such a monitor has tracked Georgia’s mental health system since 2010.

Already, Georgia has paid its lawyers – from Atlanta-based Robbins Ross Alloy Belinfante Littlefield – about $165,000, state records show.

With the lawsuit coming, Goodmark said, “it’s going to be a lot more.”



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

'Armed, dangerous’ shooting suspect ID’d; bloody note left near scene
'Armed, dangerous’ shooting suspect ID’d; bloody note left near scene

A 30-year-old man was shot in the face and a 14-year-old boy was shot in the back just outside Snellville city limits Thursday morning, Gwinnett County police said. The 30-year-old victim, Andre Devost, was flown to Grady Memorial Hospital after he and the 14-year-old were driven to Eastside Medical Center in a private vehicle. Both are expected to...
Massage therapist allegedly molested child at Gwinnett home
Massage therapist allegedly molested child at Gwinnett home

A massage therapist allegedly assaulted an 11-year-old boy during a session at the man’s Lilburn home, according to a police report.  Marco Hernandez, 49,  remained in the Gwinnett County Detention Center on a $5,700 bond on child molestation, sodomy and giving false name or information charges in the alleged July 8 sexual assault,...
07/21 Mike Luckovich: Arrested development.
07/21 Mike Luckovich: Arrested development.

Invest Atlanta to ethics board: we earned “free” Mercedes-Benz tickets
Invest Atlanta to ethics board: we earned “free” Mercedes-Benz tickets

Invest Atlanta, the city’s economic arm, will have to wait to know if it can get its hands on “free” tickets it says the city already paid $220 million for at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The city’s ethics board on Thursday delayed a decision on Invest Atlanta’s request to overturn a 2013 rule that prohibits city employees...
New Fulton property assessments go out Aug. 4, digest up from 2016
New Fulton property assessments go out Aug. 4, digest up from 2016

Fulton County property owners will see new assessment notices in early August. The county’s Board of Assessors approved the new values Thursday, clearing the way for assessment notices to be sent. County commissioners last month decided to keep residential assessments at 2016 values after an outcry from residents who saw their property values...
More Stories