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Saturday, October 14, 2017

Segregating Disabled Georgians

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the civil rights of people with autism and other disabilities

On October 11, 2017, parents of children with disabilities, the Center for Public Representation, the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, the Georgia Advocacy Office, The Arc, DLA Piper LLP, and the Goodmark Law Firm filed a class action lawsuit in federal court alleging that the State of Georgia has discriminated against thousands of public school students with disabilities by providing them with a separate and unequal education via the State’s Georgia Network for Educational and Therapeutic Supports Program (GNETS). The complaint, filed in United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, alleges that the State, in denying GNETS students the opportunity to be educated with their non-disabled peers in neighborhood schools violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Read this fact sheet or press release to learn more about the lawsuit.
The state of Georgia is unique in having established a state-wide educational program—GNETS—that systematically segregates students with behavioral disabilities across the state. Over 5,000 students with disabilities, the disproportionate majority of whom are students of color, have been sent to the GNETS centers. Most of the GNETS centers are housed in completely separate schools (including some that were formerly schools for African-American students in the Jim Crow days). Other GNETS centers are inside regular schools but typically are housed in locked wings or have separate entrances, effectively operating as a separate school within the school. GNETS students are not only segregated from their non-disabled peers but also receive an inferior education.
Typically, GNETS students are not taught by certified teachers; many are primarily taught through computers. Students cannot access the basic classes they need to earn a diploma, resulting in a graduate rate of GNETS students of only 10% (compared to a statewide rate of 80%). Many GNETS centers do not provide access to basic school services like gyms, libraries, or science labs. In addition, GNETS students are deprived of important co-curricular opportunities that other students enjoy, such as playing sports or participating in the school play. Parents and students have described GNETS as similar to a prison, with no way out. Learn more about GNETS with these infographics or here.
In 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice investigated GNETS and found that it violates Title II of the ADA by (1) unnecessarily segregating students with disabilities from their peers and (2) providing opportunities to GNETS students that are unequal to those provided to other students throughout the state. The investigation eventually culminated in a 2016 lawsuit against the State, alleging that the State’s administration of the GNETS system violates the ADA by “unnecessarily segregating students with disabilities from their peers” and providing “unequal” education opportunity to GNETS students. On August 11, 2017, the DOJ’s lawsuit was put on hold pending a decision from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals regarding DOJ’s authority to bring suit. Throughout, the State has continued to defend the GNETS program.
A broad coalition of disability, educational, mental health, child welfare, juvenile justice, civil rights and parent and youth advocacy groups from across Georgia have joined together around shared concerns about the GNETS program. Learn more about the Georgia Coalition for Equity in Education.
If you have questions about this lawsuit or need assistance related to GNETS, contact the Georgia Advocacy Office by phone at (404) 885-1234 (or toll-free in Georgia at 1-800-537-2329) or by email at