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US Justice Department and State of Georgia Fail to Resolve GNETS Case Out of Court

December 5, 2016
Source: Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog)

Settlement talks are off – for now – in the federal lawsuit alleging the illegal segregation of disabled students in Georgias psychoeducational school network.

Lawyers for the state and the U.S. Department of Justice met last Monday but failed to resolve the case, according to court papers.

They were trying to settle a dispute over the Georgia Network for Educational and Therapeutic Services [GNETS], the states one-of-a-kind school system for students with intellectual and behavioral disabilities.

The Justice Department filed suit last summer, alleging the state violates the Americans with Disabilities Act by segregating several thousand disabled children each year in GNETS. Those children are denied an opportunity to attend classes with students who are not disabled, the lawsuit said, and the programs instructional quality is lacking.

Federal authorities allege some students have been assigned to GNETS schools with no gyms, cafeterias, libraries or science labs. Others have been placed in dilapidated buildings once used to segregate African-American students during the Jim Crow era.

The state has asked U.S. District Judge Eleanor L. Ross in Atlanta to dismiss the suit, contending the Justice Department has neither jurisdiction to enforce the ADA nor the standing to sue the state under the acts provisions.

A settlement is still possible without a trial, both sides told the judge. But no more talks are scheduled until after the parties evaluate evidence gathered through the discovery process. No time frame was included in recent court filings.

Among the information the Justice Department wants is demographic information about students in GNETS and those “at risk of placement” in the program. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported earlier this year that Georgia schools assign a disproportionate number of black children to GNETS, a majority of whom have the vague diagnosis of “emotional and behavioral disorder.”

The state wants to know more details about the allegations the Justice Department made in the lawsuit and in an earlier report alleging discrimination against GNETS students.

Both sides agreed the case is complex, because of a “greater than normal volume of evidence” and the “multiple use of experts.”

Another complicating factor: the change in administrations in Washington.

The suit was filed by the Justice Departments civil rights division. The divisions head is a political appointee, and it may be months before a replacement is nominated and confirmed by the Senate.

Under the Obama administration, the civil rights division aggressively enforced anti-discrimination statutes. Whether the new regime continues that approach is a matter of conjecture.

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