Georgia Advocacy Office, et al v. The State of Georgia, et al

In 2017, parents of children with disabilities, the Center for Public Representation, the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, the Georgia Advocacy OfficeThe ArcDLA Piper LLP, and the Goodmark Law Firm filed a class action lawsuit in federal court alleging that the State of Georgia has 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, filed in United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, alleges that the State, in denying GNETS students the opportunity to be educated with their non-disabled peers in neighborhood schools, violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.  Read this fact sheet or press release to learn more about the lawsuit.

GNETS systematically segregates students with behavioral disabilities across the state. Approximately 3,000 students with disabilities, a disproportionate number of whom are students of color, have been sent to the GNETS programs from their neighborhood schools. Most of the GNETS centers are housed in completely separate schools.  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.  GNETS students often are not taught by properly trained and certified teachers; many are primarily taught through computers.  Students cannot access the basic classes they need to earn a diploma, resulting in a graduation rate for GNETS students far lower than the rate for students generally.  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.  Learn more about GNETS with these infographics or here.

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 by DOJ against the State, which remains pending.

On March 19, 2020, the Court denied the State of Georgia’s Motion to Dismiss the GNETS case.   The Court accepted the arguments made by CPR and its co-counsel in their brief opposing the Motion to Dismiss and a supplemental brief submitted after oral argument that Plaintiffs should be allowed to prove that the GNETS system violates the rights of students with disabilities under the ADA, Section 504, and the U.S. Constitution.  

A broad coalition of disability, educational, mental health, child welfare, juvenile justice, civil rights and parent and youth advocacy groups from across Georgia have joined together around shared concerns about the GNETS program.  Learn more about the Georgia Coalition for Equity in Education.

Select Media

Georgia’s Separate and Unequal Special Education System – The New Yorker 10/1/18

Georgia psychoeducational schools an unconstitutional ‘dumping ground,’ new suit claims – The AJC 10/11/17

Will Trump’s Justice Department Pay Attention to Disability Rights? Mother Jones 10/13/17

Parents of students with disabilities sue state of Georgia, allege discrimination The Telegraph 10/12/17

Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against ‘Drop Out Factories For Abandoned Kids’ NOS Magazine 10/19/17

Three Part Series in the The Atlanta Journal Constitution

  1. Schools send disproportionate number of black children to programs already under fire for “warehousing” students with behavioral disorders.  4/28/16
  2. Educators wanted to subject Libby Beem to behavioral experimentation in Georgia’s unique system of psychoeducational schools. A courtroom showdown would determine Libby’s fate.  5/5/16
  3. With a tiny sliver of students, special behavioral programs record five times more restraints than all other Georgia schools combined. 5/8/16

The Separate, Unequal Education of Students with Special Needs – The AJC – 3/21/2017

Click here to see more media coverage.