The Department of Justice announced Tuesday that it was suing the Georgia school system for segregating students with disabilities, the first such lawsuit against any state school system in the country.
The lawsuit alleges that Georgia public schools violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by illegally segregating disabled students from the rest of the student body, keeping them in run-down classrooms and denying them the same educational and extracurricular opportunities as other students. In many cases, the suit alleges, students with disabilities are kept in facilities designed decades ago to segregate black students.
The 4,600 students currently in the segregated program could do well in a general classroom setting, the lawsuit says, but Georgia doesn't provide the mental health and therapeutic services that would make that possible.
The lawsuit was based on a Justice Department investigation completed last year. It found that most disabled students spend all of their school day completely separated from the rest of the student body, sometimes in the basement of a school or in a separate wing or building. While the federal government worked with the state school system to improve those conditions, "despite good faith efforts, the United States has determined that voluntary compliance cannot be reached at this time," the complaint states, prompting the lawsuit.
"Students with disabilities in Georgia are entitled to access the services and supports that they need in the most integrated setting appropriate, where they can interact with and learn alongside their non-disabled peers and access educational opportunities that are equal to those available to other students,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta in a statement.
A spokesperson for the Georgia Department of Education said he could not comment Tuesday afternoon.
Casey Tolan is a National News Reporter for Fusion based in New York City.