Stakeholders Endorse Lawsuit Challenging the GNETS Program and Hail It as the Brown VS. Board of Education for Students with Disabilities

On August 23, 2016, The U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the state of Georgia alleging that its treatment and segregation of students with disabilities in the Georgia Network for Educational and Therapeutic Support Program violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. For years, the Georgia Coalition for Educational Equity has been working vigorously to protect the right of students with disabilities to receive an equal education alongside their non-disabled peers. As members of the Coalition, The Arc of Georgia and The Arc of the United States strongly support this lawsuit.  Read more in the Coalition’s press release here.

Atlanta, Georgia, August 23rd — The Georgia Coalition for Educational Equality (GCEE) strongly supports today’s filing by the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) of a federal lawsuit challenging the illegal segregation and unequal and inferior education provided to the thousands of students with disabilities in Georgia’s Network for Educational and Therapeutic Services (GNETS).  The GCEE is a broad coalition of disability, education, civil rights, juvenile justice, child welfare, self-advocate, and parent organizations advocating for a complete transformation of the GNETS program to provide supports to help all students succeed in their neighborhood schools.

In July 2015, DOJ found that Georgia is illegally segregating students with behavior-related disabilities in the GNETS program, where they are denied opportunities to learn with their peers who are non-disabled and provided inferior educational opportunities.  The GNETS is a statewide network created in 1970 that consists of two dozen centers serving about 5,000 children with at least $70 million in state and federal funds, plus additional locally- and federally-funded services. According to the letter, “[t]he State’s support and development of GNETS has effectively created one placement option for many students with behavior-related disabilities to the exclusion of all others.” The DOJ also found the network’s facilities to be “inferior,” often outdated, and lacking such basic infrastructure as central air conditioning, as well as educational resources such as science labs and libraries, and extracurricular facilities such as gyms and playgrounds. The Atlanta Journal Constitution’s May 2016 investigation found that Georgia’s public schools assign a vastly disproportionate number of black students to “psychoeducational” programs, segregating them not just by disability but also by race. The paper found that 54 percent of students in Georgia’s psychoeducational programs are African-American, compared with 37 percent in all public schools statewide.

“The GCEE has maintained that the Justice Department’s letter of findings created an opportunity for the State to transform their education system into one that supports students in their neighborhood schools. We are disappointed that the State has opted to defend the GNETS rather than work towards the full integration of students with disabilities. The Arc Georgia fully supports this lawsuit and will continue to be involved in the GCEE coalition to ensure the state of Georgia provides a full range of supports for students with behavior-related disabilities in our neighborhood schools,” said Stacey Ramirez, the State Director of The Arc Georgia.

“While we hoped for a voluntary resolution to transform the provision of behavioral-related educational support for students with disabilities and avoid litigation, we strongly support the decision by the Department of Justice to file their lawsuit. The continued segregation of students with disabilities is a shameful and illegal position for the State of Georgia to defend,” said Leslie Lipson, an attorney with the Georgia Advocacy Office, the independent Protection and Advocacy System for people with disabilities in Georgia, a leader in the GCEE.

“Segregating students with disabilities not only is illegal but also leads to poor results,” said Alison Barkoff, Director of Advocacy for the Center for Public Representation in Washington, D.C. and a leader of the GCEE.  “Georgia has a choice: engage in litigation likely to result in a court order to desegregate, or work with the Justice Department and stakeholders to develop a settlement that incorporates best practices and ends illegal and unnecessary segregation of students with disabilities.”

The GCEE hopes that this lawsuit – which seeks to vindicate the right of students with disabilities to an equal education alongside their non-disabled peers – will be the Brown v. Board of Education for Georgia’s students with disabilities.


What is Disability? The Department of Justice Releases Revised Regulations to Implement the Requirements of the ADA Amendments Act of 2008

On August 10, 2016, the Department of Justice (DOJ) released the much anticipated final rule revising the Department’s Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Title II (public services) and Title III (public accommodation) regulations to implement the requirements of the ADA Amendments Act of 20009 (ADAAA). The final rule will take effect on October 11, 2016.

The new DOJ regulations provide significant clarification for who is covered under the ADA. The final rule clarifies that those with disabilities from cancer, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, learning disabilities, and other conditions should be protected under the ADA.

In addition to clarifying the term disability, the final rule provides a non-exhaustive list in defining major life activities, and adds rules of construction to be applied when determining whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity.  DOJ states that the goal is to ensure the ADA is construed broadly in favor of expansive coverage, thereby meeting the original Congressional intent.

Although the ADAA is already in effect and applies to all entities covered under Title II and Title III (employment) of the ADA, DOJ’s changes to the regulations will assist in the interpretation and application of the ADAAA. The ADAAA’s provisions regarding the definition of disability will also apply to Title I of the ADA.

The final rule includes clear language that individuals with intellectual disabilities are covered under the ADA and the ADAAA. The analysis in the rule makes it clear the intent of Congress was to protect individuals with I/DD even where a mitigating measure, medication, etc., might lessen the impact of an individual’s disability.

The Arc Reacts to Department of Justice’s Inspector General Beginning Investigation into Storefront Sting Operations Involving People with Disabilities

Washington, DC – In response to the news that the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Inspector General will be investigating storefront stings in four of the cities that used people with intellectual disability (ID) to facilitate operations without their knowledge, The Arc released the following statement:

“We are pleased that the Inspector General is taking this important step, as we requested in our letter to the agency, to find out how these operations that used people with intellectual disability could have occurred, and we hope that the results of this inquiry are the end to this practice across all operations conducted by the Department of Justice.  Because of the unique challenges people with intellectual and developmental disabilities face in the criminal justice system, as either suspects, offenders, or victims, they should not be used as pawns or informants by ATF agents or other law enforcement officials. We are working with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to determine how The Arc can help train federal agents to recognize intellectual disability and keep this population out of their operations,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.  “Many people needing help in the criminal justice system have disabilities that are not easily recognizable, and we hope to raise awareness among law enforcement nationwide about ‘hidden disabilities’ to increase the safety and protect the rights of people with I/DD.”

When The Arc first learned that storefront sting operations were entrapping and exploiting people with ID and then charging some for the crimes ATF agents asked them to commit, we reached out to the U.S. Department of Justice expressing our concerns.  Since then, The Arc has met with high-level officials within the DOJ and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to discuss these cases and offer assistance with training of federal law enforcement officials.