Former first lady Rosalynn Carter: Stop segregating Georgia students with disabilities

This metal door locked 13-year-old Jonathan King of Hall County into a seclusion room at one of Georgia’s “psychoeducational” programs for students with behavioral and emotional disabilities. Jonathan hanged himself in this room in 2004. (Photo by Gainesville Police Department.)

In this essay, former first lady Rosalynn Carter writes on behalf of the Georgia Coalition for Equity in Education about the U.S. Justice Department’s charge the state is illegally segregating students with disabilities in separate and substandard schools that isolate the children from peers.

Friday marks the year anniversary of the Justice Department’s letter to Gov. Nathan Deal in which the federal agency warns:

Our investigation found that the State unnecessarily relies on segregated settings to serve students with behavior-related disabilities in the GNETS Program, through which the State unnecessarily segregates thousands of students from their peers.

The GNETS Centers severely restrict interactions between students with disabilities and their peers in general education, depriving them of the opportunity to benefit from the stimulation and range of interactions that occur there, including opportunities to learn, observe, and be influenced by their non-disabled peers. Even in GNETS Classrooms that are physically located in general education school buildings, many students placed in the Classrooms are unnecessarily segregated from their peers because the Classrooms are often located in separate wings or isolated parts of school buildings, some of which are locked and/or fenced off from spaces used for general education programs. Further, the State fails to ensure that admissions to the GNETS Program are limited to only those students for whom therapeutic and behavioral health services in a segregated setting may be necessary. In addition, the Department found that the vast majority of students in the GNETS Program could participate with additional aids, services, and supports in the variety and rigor of educational opportunities available in general education schools. Because of the State’s administration of the Program, these students are unnecessarily segregated from their peers.

You can read the AJC investigation on this issue here.

By Rosalynn Carter

The state of Georgia needs to stop denying thousands of its schoolchildren their civil rights.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education marked a turning point in the education of our country’s students. The court made clear that separate is not equal and made equal educational opportunity the law. Yet more than 60 years later, Georgia’s students are still being denied these civil rights.

Rosalynn Carter

Rosalynn Carter

After a multiyear investigation, the U.S. Department of Justice found that Georgia is illegally segregating thousands of students with disabilities in a substandard statewide network of programs called GNETS (Georgia Network for Educational and Therapeutic Supports) in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. An entire school year has passed since the DOJ sent its letter of findings to the state, yet for the students sentenced to these programs, time has stood still and justice continues to be denied.

Friday marks the first anniversary of the DOJ letter. It is past time that Georgia found a way for these students to receive an equal education without being separated from their peers in their neighborhood schools.

These are children with mental health and behavioral health needs and who are victims of trauma. They do not attend traditional public schools. Many remain in buildings that exist as vestiges of our sad segregated history. Others attend school in locked hallways and separate mobile classrooms, where they are not permitted to interact with the non-disabled school population. Most will never attend a high school football game or school dance.

An Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation recently 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 newspaper found that 54 percent of students in Georgia’s psychoeducational programs are African-American, compared with 37 percent in all public schools statewide.

Ultimately, as the DOJ has concluded, the educational experience is separate, unequal, and a violation of our children’s civil rights.  Even the state’s own audit in 2010 found that the GNETS “cannot demonstrate that the services provided to students in the GNETS Program have resulted in improvements to [students’] behavior or academic performance.”

Decades of research show there is no benefit from segregating students with disabilities from their peers and that there are benefits from inclusion. In response to this crisis, stakeholders, including the Carter Center, have formed the In response to this crisis, stakeholders, including the Carter Center, have formed the Georgia Coalition for Equity in Education.

As a member of the coalition, I call on the state to collaborate with the Department of Justice to bring our education system into compliance with the ADA and to develop a resolution to reform the outdated GNETS program. In its place, the state should implement a broad array of supports for neighborhood schools in local school districts, where students can be successful academically and socially, graduate, and even be prepared for postsecondary education or employment.

The coalition has urged the state repeatedly but unsuccessfully to gather input from stakeholders about how to reform the system. If the state and DOJ are close to reaching a settlement, we call on them to seek stakeholder input now. Otherwise, we recommend that the DOJ take legal action to vindicate the civil rights of these students and ensure that the Brown decision’s vision of equal educational opportunities is realized for all of Georgia’s students.

 

 

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24 comments
Harlequin
Harlequin

We have to face the fact that there are some students that a special school or a self-contained SPED classroom would be the Least Restrictive Environment, due to their severe emotional and behavior disorders. (Particularly students who are a demonstrated menace to others and/or themselves.) One student like that can turn a regular classroom upside down with disruptions, even if extra support staff is provided. What about the rights of the non-behaviorally challenged to learn? 

Donali Haselden Howell
Donali Haselden Howell

It IS the actual door to a room in one of the facilities referred to, though, isn't it?

AJC  Get Schooled
AJC Get Schooled

It is the actual door to a seclusion room where a Hall County teen committed suicide in 2004,

elementary-pal
elementary-pal

However, that facility is no longer in use by GNETS. 


Another comment
Another comment

Sorry, I am a liberal who strongly disagrees with Mrs. Carter. We have lost all sense for how accommodating those with "disabilities" affect then continue to effect the regular education classmates.

Let me give you a simple example in my daughters 8th grade class she had a boy who had been kicked out of "Christian School" his mother taught at because his "Asbergers". Did not allow him to be able to sensor what came out of his mouth like a normal 13/14 year old child. He called the PE teacher a retired Paris Island Drill Sargent the "N" word, and was kicked out of the school his mother taught at. GIven the PE instructors background, I can garner that was not a one off. My daughter was a very busty 8 th grader. This boy at her school blurts out that she ( by name ) is Gynermous! My daughter interprets that as fat! Imediately is reduced to tears and humiliated. The boy's only punishment is a "sorry" that has no bearing. My child and the rest of the class knows that. My child and the other students say that he has called all students ( girls) abusive comments and gone without punishment due to his disability. ( His own mother told me he was kicked out of the Christian school for the "N" word to the PE teacher).

Why should my daughter have to be verbally abused, and body shamed to accomadate a 13/14 year old with an alleged disability that couldn't control what insults he blurted out.

It has almost been two years and my daughter and her classmates still talk about how they can not believe that the Administrator did nothing but make this boy make a lame "Sorry". They list all the other girls he hurled inappropriate comments to.

When did regular and honor students loose the right to have an environment free from abuse and interruption of the learning environment?

Starik
Starik

@Another comment There's the problem: where do you draw the line?  I would let the Asperger's kid stay.  I doubt it's possible to hurt the feelings of a Parris Island drill sergeant.  Pointing out oversized breasts is to be expected with adolescents.  Nobody would exclude a child with Cerebral Palsy from regular classes, or a paraplegic kid, and I'd allow any type of physical disability... but not violent aggressive kids who are a risk to hurt somebody, or kids with developmental disabilities who can't possibly keep up with the class and prevent the other kids from learning by monopolizing teacher time, or who disrupt classes with loud involuntary noises.  That's the bright line to draw.  Is it fair to the other kids?

bu22
bu22

@Starik @Another comment You should teach your daughter some tolerance.  Asperberger's kids can't control those outbursts.  Its like a tick.  You wouldn't kick a student out who had a tick.  You would try to explain to the others.  That child may be doing the best he can.

Beach Bound2020
Beach Bound2020

I'm am all about a LRE for any student with special needs.  But we cannot lose sight of the fact that for some students the LRE is small specialized setting in a specific location outside of the traditional school.  If the problem is the condition of the specialized schools, the fix is to upgrade them, not to send those students to a traditional school under the guise that being around non-disabled peers is the magic solution.  Nothing pains me more than to see some students with significant and severe psychological, social emotional disabilities, students with psychosis and severe autistic students go through monumental unnecessary stress in large schools of 1000 and more students.  Until you see them have complete melt downs, self harm and completely shut down can you understand the true harm that causes some students. I cry sometimes after assisting in these situations because I know a large school is not the best place for them, but our legislators, and with all due respect, former first ladies, are pressuring us to think it must be something educators are not doing right. You know, God just made some students extra special, and to pretend that we can surround them with traditional students in a traditional school and think that will make them any less extra special is just wrong.  Let's embrace these students for who they are and allow them to go to the best place for them, even if it is in a specialized program outside of a traditional school.

bu22
bu22

@Beach Bound2020 Everything I've read is that GNETS is a disaster.  But yes, for some, LRE is separate and appropriate.

Beach Bound2020
Beach Bound2020

@xxxzzz Can't disagree with you about GNETS. But the answer then is to fix GNETS. The students there are psychologically fragile and placing them in a large environment is just as horrific.  I've seen it first hand and it is not good.  There are many successful models of schooling for students with severe disabilities yet it seems like Georgia despite spending huge amounts of money, is reluctant to adopt another model for these children.

Kathryn Antman
Kathryn Antman

Not so much that it doesn't match but that it includes an obscenity.

AJC  Get Schooled
AJC Get Schooled

This is an auto program that now and then reaches back and posts the photo from a prior blog. Am meeting next week with IT to see if this issue can be fixed. It is not consistent, which is the problem with fixing it.

newsphile
newsphile

Thanks.  Several times when I have tried to post, I get an error message.  Perhaps others are getting this same message and are unable to comment.

Kathryn Antman
Kathryn Antman

Did y'all forget to look at the photo running with this article?

EliasDenny
EliasDenny

My daughter has been teaching kindergarten with several challenged children in the same room with the other children with some success. It is still hard to teach a child with the capacity of a two year old.

Ron Paquin
Ron Paquin

research shows that these children benefit from a clinical environment because they have a valid medical need. these GNETS schools create an environment that is supportive of a student's need for time to recover from trauma and time needed to develop the skills needed in self-regulation of behaviors. DOJ involvement with children who have behavior issues is simply to lock them up in jail, not to assist them in recovery from what has happened to them. Hwang, S., Nolan, Z. T., White, S. F., Williams, W. C., Sinclair, S., & Blair, R. J. R. (2016). Dual neurocircuitry dysfunctions in disruptive behavior disorders: Emotional responding and response inhibition. Psychological Medicine, 46(7), 1485-1496. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0033291716000118

Rhona Beitler
Rhona Beitler

You are my personal hero. As a Special Educator for forty-three years, I know only too well the bias that is displayed to students like mine. We teachers can not do it all. Thank you for being our champion

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

I will bow to persons with more direct knowledge, but the GNETS kids I have known (very very few) need a more highly supervised environment for their safety and the safety of others.  These are the most extremely behaviorally disturbed kids, frequently with other disabilities, such as developmental delays.  GNETS exists for a reason.


Are we wanting full inclusion?  Many would need their own, personal aid(s) to begin to function, and this does not include the extras that would be needed for the other members of the class.


At some point, we have to consider the needs of the whole, rather than the needs of each individual.

Laura Bondurant
Laura Bondurant

It works in other states...For some reason Georgia feels if a person has a disability they should be in conditions similar to jail!! If people with neuro diversities were respected instead of restrained and imprisoned in school thier behaviors would be better!! The treatment the Georgia school gives our kids is deplorable and I hate that educators like yourself are not concerned with all kids!! Such a sad statement!!

Ron Paquin
Ron Paquin

@Laura Bondurant Visit a GNETS school to discover a clinical facility designed to assist the transition of traumatized children into productive members of society. there are no locked doors or isolation rooms. that was outlawed in 04 because of that particular incident involving negligent staff.


trifecta_
trifecta_

Pretending chronic disruptive behavior is a "disability" is ludicrous. And if liberal elites weren't able to send their own kids to swank private schools there would quickly be an end to it.

Carter's is exactly the sort of wrong-headed thinking that has ruined public education and will continue to encourage black Americans, especially, from facing up to their community's real problem: children growing up without a father in the home.

Nearly three out of four black children.

Astropig
Astropig

Couldn't agree more with Mrs. Carter.We should provide these students with the most equal educational opportunities that are feasible.It would be hard work and involve cooperation between state and local education officials,but it is doable.I know first hand that a great majority of these students can be developed into honest,hard working,taxpaying citizens with the right approach.As part of an overall push for education reform,I'd love to see the administration address this.No child in 2016 should attend classes in portable trailers-they are unsafe and unhygenic. No student should be denied the access to mainstream instruction that would benefit from it.We're already spending the money,so we may as well get our moneys worth. Great investment.


There are challenges.There will be bureaucracies that slow roll any improvements.There will be resistance to reform of this nature (mainly because these students don't have effective advocates at the statehouse-they're drowned out by the teachers pseudo-unions and PAGE and other pressure groups).


Mrs. Carter is right and I support her idea here.

Mandella88
Mandella88

So how do think a large system like DeKalb does at meeting Ms Carter's points?