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Last week, the US Justice Department (DOJ) announced it would sue the state of Georgia for running a network of schools that segregated students with disabilities from those without, denying them equal access to services and educational opportunities. The lawsuit, which seeks to desegregate the state’s program of so-called psychoeducational schools, could prompt school districts across the country to look closely at whether they are illegally separating students with disabilities from their peers.

Federal investigators found that many students enrolled in the program were confined to classrooms in basements or separate wings of the same school buildings as students without disabilities but had little opportunity to interact with them.  Physical restraint also persisted in the programs statewide.

The DOJ alleges in the suit that Georgia violated Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities by public entities.

Emily Suski, an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law who specializes in education law, told Mother Jones that the challenge under the ADA—as opposed to one under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act—allows the government to address systemic segregation in the state’s program. “If the government’s successful, it certainly sends a message,” Suski said. Other states and school districts, she added, will have to reexamine their approaches to educating students with disabilities to ensure they are treating them equally under the law.

Elsewhere, disability rights and mental-health advocacy groups have taken action against school districts. In June 2014, students took action against the city of Springfield, Massachusetts, and its school district for allegedly separating students with disabilities from their peers in Public Day’s elementary, middle, and high schools, where they face the prospect of being pushed out and are subjected to physical restraint and isolation. The group sought a class-action status in May.

And in February, six current and former students sued the Pasadena, California, school district in federal court for allegedly discriminating against students with disabilities by sending them to Focus Point Academy, a “segregated school site” where they receive an “inferior education” and lack equal access to extracurricular activities.

To read the entire Mother Jones article:


Elementary aged student with disabilities in a classroom with a teacher who is showing them a picture as part of their lesson

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