ATLANTA (CN) — A class action lawsuit claims that Georgia's statewide special education program discriminates against children with disabilities by keeping them segregated from their non-disabled peers.
In a federal complaint filed in Atlanta on Wednesday, the plaintiffs, which include the Georgia Advocacy Office, the Arc of the United State, and a number of parents with children in the state program, claim it discriminates against thousands of public school students with disabilities by "segregating them in a network of unequal and separate institutions and classrooms."
As a result ,they say the program, called the Georgia Network for Educational and Therapeutic Support, violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fourteenth Amendment.
The plaintiffs are represented by Jessica Wilson of DLA Piper LLP in Boston.
According to the complaint, approximately 5,256 students with varying mental and developmental disabilities were placed into GNETS during the 2016 school year.
But the plaintiffs contend these students receive "an inferior and unequal education" since the GNETS curriculum is not based on or aligned with Georgia's statewide curriculum.
They say the program segregates disabled students by removing them from their classrooms and placing them in either separate, locked wings of their zoned school or in completely separate GNETS-centered buildings. Many GNETS centers do not have libraries, cafeterias, gyms, science labs, music rooms or playgrounds, they claim.
"Typically, GNETS satellite classrooms are isolated in trailers, basements, or locked wings, with separate entrances that are not used by students without disabilities," the class says. "During school hours, GNETS students have little, if any, opportunity to interact with their non-disabled peers."
The complaint continues: "GNETS students receive a low-quality education. Academic instruction is poor, and GNETS students do not have access to courses and extracurricular activities routinely available to their non-disabled peers. Because of the lack of core courses and poor academic instruction, it is hard to earn a regular school diploma and very few GNETS students graduate with one."
The class also claims that GNETS teachers often lack certification in the subject matter they teach and that only 10 percent of GNETS students graduate.
"GNETS are not placements of the last resort but instead are 'dumping grounds' used by the State and local school districts for students whom local school districts do not want to educate," the complaint says.
The class claims that the problem is a systemic one. "The State does not provide local school districts necessary funding to provide needed disability-related behavioral services in zoned schools," the complaint says. "As a result of the State's decision to consolidate the majority of its funding for these services in GNETS, local school districts have little incentive and few resources to provide the services necessary to educate children with disability-related behavioral needs in their zoned schools."
A representative of Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The class seeks declaratory and injunctive relief.
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