Georgia accused of breaking federal law by segregating students with disabilities

by: Rachel Stockman Updated:

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ATLANTA - A coalition of parents and advocacy groups is demanding that the State of Georgia take action to fix how thousands of children with disabilities are being treated.
 
In a July letter, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division found that the state-run Georgia Network for Education and Therapeutic Supports program – or GNETS, is violating federal law.
 
The federal investigation found that the state was putting children with disabilities in substandard facilities and depriving them equal access to an education.
 
“Some GNETS Centers are located in buildings that formerly served as schools for black students during de jure segregation. Our investigation found that many of the GNETS Centers have poor lighting, poorly maintained interiors, or a lack of central air conditioning or sufficient window air conditioning units,” the letter read.
 
“No prom, no yearbooks. They found there were no playgrounds for elementary school kids, no science labs… there aren’t teachers for high school kids, all done by computer,” said Leslie Lipson, an attorney with the Georgia Advocacy Office.
 
“It is kind of like they are tucked away back there like they are a dirty little secret,” said Kersten Powell. Her son, Kellan Powell, 11, has been attending a GNETS program for several years.
 
“You don’t get a choice whether you want to enroll your child in this,” Powell said.
 
Lipson is frustrated that it has been more than 4 months and that Georgia Department of Education has taken little action to fix the problems with the GNETS programs. 
 
“The kids are absolutely segregated and the things that you and I liked about school they do not have access to,” Lipson said.
 
Her group, along with 21 other organization including the Carter Center and the ACLU, sent a letter demanding the Governor respond to the DOJ’s findings.
 
“The prevailing paradigm of segregation, exclusion, and low expectations for students with behavior-related disabilities must end,” the letter said.
 
A spokesperson for the Governor’s office confirmed they received the letter, and say they are working with the Georgia Department of Education and the U.S. DOJ.