Georgia Advocacy Office v. Georgia

State: Georgia

Filed: 2017

Court: U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia

Plaintiffs: Georgia Advocacy Office, The Arc, Parents of Children with Disabilities

Defendants: State of Georgia, Georgia Board of Education, Georgia Department of Education, Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, Georgia Department of Community Health

Counsel: Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, Center for Public Representation, DLA Piper LLP, Georgia Advocacy Office, Goodmark Law Firm, The Arc

Overview: In 2017, parents of children with disabilities, The Arc, and the Georgia Advocacy Office filed a class action lawsuit in federal court alleging that the state of Georgia 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 alleges that the state, in denying GNETS students the opportunity to be educated with their non-disabled peers in neighborhood schools, violates the ADA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

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.

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.

Case Documents


Plaintiffs’ Opposition to Motion to Dismiss

Order Denying Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss

Order Denying Defendants’ Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings & Plaintiffs’ Motion to Consolidate

Plaintiffs’ Motion for Class Certification

Plaintiffs’ Motion for Partial Summary Judgment

Expert Report of Dr. Judy Elliott in Support of Plaintiffs’ Motion for Class Certification

Expert Report of Dr. Sally Rogers in Support of Plaintiffs’ Motion for Class Certification

Expert Report of Dr. Kimm Campbell in Support of Plaintiffs’ Motion for Class Certification

Case Resources

Case Overview

DOJ Letter of Findings

DOJ Complaint

U.S. v. Georgia Order Denying Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss

Press Releases

Parents and Advocates Sue State of Georgia Over Separate and Unequal Education for Thousands of Students With Disabilities

Related Media

The New Yorker: Georgia’s Separate & Unequal Special Education System

Mother Jones: Will Trump’s Justice Department Pay Attention to Disability Rights?

Associated Press: Parents of Disabled Students Suing Georgia in Federal Court

Atlanta Journal Constitution: Georgia Psychoeducational Schools An Unconstitutional ‘Dumping Ground,’ New Suit Claims

The Telegraph: Parents Of Students With Disabilities Sue State Of Georgia, Allege Discrimination

NOS Magazine: Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against ‘Drop Out Factories For Abandoned Kids’

Atlanta Journal Constitution: Georgia ‘Psychoeducational’ Students Segregated By Disability, Race

Atlanta Journal Constitution: In Psychoeducational School, Behavioral Experiment For Troubled Child

Atlanta Journal Constitution: Physical Restraint Common At Psychoeducational Schools

The Atlantic: The Separate, Unequal Education of Students With Special Needs

Atlanta Journal Constitution: Georgia Illegally Segregates Disabled Students, Federal Inquiry Finds