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 The DOJ also found the network’s facilities to be “inferior,” often outdated, and lacking such basic infrastructure as central air conditioning, as well as educational resources such as science labs and libraries, and extracurricular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.

 

Brazilian Educators visit The Arc Baton Rouge Children’s Services

By Barry Meyer, Executive Director of The Arc Baton RougeThe Arc Baton Rouge and Brazil exchange participants

Earlier this month, we were thrilled to welcome five visiting educators from Brazil to The Arc Baton Rouge Children’s Services. The visitors came to Louisiana through a program of the U.S. Department of State. The guests joined us from five states across Brazil and included four Secretaries of their state’s Department of Education and one Deputy Secretary.

We were selected because our programs help create inclusive preschool, child care and educational opportunities for children with disabilities. One of the State Department’s specific objectives was to “Expose participants to the ways in which private sector entities are engaging with public sector partners in support of educational programs.”

Between Heidi Shapiro, Children’s Services Social Worker, two interpreters, and me, we presented four programs of The Arc Baton Rouge Children’s Services:

  • Early Childhood Inclusive Program
  • The Preschool and Child Care Training and Technical Assistance Project
  • Parent Supports and
  • School Age Supports

Using a multi-platform approach including PowerPoint presentations, multilingual handouts, informal discussion, and a Q and A session, the guests learned how The Arc Children’s Services staff works with public school administrators, principals, and teachers to help them restructure programs. Additionally, they learned how our staff serves as mentors and coaches to support teachers to include children with disabilities in regular classes. They also saw how a similar training and on-going mentor/coaching approach worked in preschool and child care settings.

In the end, the participants understood that training parents and care givers to be their child’s strongest advocate was critical to ensuring success in transitioning to public school systems. They also left with the knowledge that an organization that is not a direct stakeholder, such as The Arc, can provide that training to individual parents, combine it with mentor/coaching of  teachers and create opportunities for individual children as well as real systems change.

I feel that The Arc Baton Rouge was very fortunate to have this opportunity to demonstrate to our Brazilian guests how we at the grass roots advocacy and service level incorporate our core values in a very real world way!

The five education officials concluded their visit with a brief tour and overview of The Arc Early Head Start program. The visiting Brazilian educators were:

 

Ms. Hortencia Maria Pereira ARAUJO

Deputy State Secretary of Education, State of Sergipe

 

Ms. Maria Izolda Cela De Arruda COELHO

Secretary of Education, State of Ceará

 

Ms. Maria Nilene Badeca Da COSTA

Secretary of Education, State of Mato Grosso do Sul

 

Mr. Claudio Cavalcanti RIBEIRO

Secretary of Education, State of Pará

 

Dr. Herman Jacobus Cornelis VOORWALD

Secretary of Education, São Paulo State

Talking About Inclusive Education

Inclusive Class podcastAmy Goodman, Co-Director of the Autism NOW National Autism Resource and Information Center, will join The Inclusive Class Podcast on Friday, May 17 at 9:00 a.m. EST for a 30-minute chat about inclusive education for students with autism and other developmental disabilities.

The Inclusive Class is hosted by Nicole Eredics, founder of the online resource, The Inclusive Class and Terri Mauro, author of 50 Ways to Support Your Child’s Special Education and The Everything Parent’s Guide to Sensory Integration Disorder.  Nicole is an elementary educator who has spent over 15 years teaching in an inclusive classroom setting creating and discovering solutions for integrating students with special needs in the classroom.  Terri Mauro is one of the most recognized experts on special education and special needs parenting on the Internet.

Tune in for Amy’s unique perspective as a person who identifies as being on the autism spectrum on Blog Talk Radio on May 17. Also, you can access the podcast after it airs on Blog Talk Radio, on iTunes and on The Inclusive Class website.

Autism NOW is a project of The Arc funded in part by the Administration on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and was created to provide quality, vetted information and resources for individuals on the autism spectrum and with other developmental disabilities.