Georgia still fighting to keep its psychoeducational schools

Jonathan King

Jonathan King hanged himself inside a Georgia psychoeducational school.

 

Under investigation for violating the rights of disabled children, Georgia is pledging to overhaul its so-called psychoeducational schools.

But at the same time, the state is making clear it intends to continue resisting federal pressure to dismantle the schools, the only statewide system in the United States exclusively for students with behavioral and emotional disabilities.

Last week the state ordered nine psychoeducational facilities closed immediately, days before the start of a new academic year. Inspectors had found mold, overloaded electrical circuits and leaking roofs, along with what may have been asbestos and peeling lead-based paint.

State officials also are reviewing thousands of records to determine whether students were appropriately assigned to the Georgia Network for Educational and Therapeutic Support, known as GNETS. About 3,000 students attended the network’s schools last fall.

The dichotomy in the state’s posture — promising to fix a system it is vigorously defending even in the face of a possible federal civil-rights case — suggests an uncertain future for GNETS and for how Georgia educates disabled children.

Advocates for disabled children complained that even though nine GNETS facilities are closing, the students will be moved from one segregated setting to another, with little opportunity for educators or families to prepare for the disruption.

“The timing is highly suspect,” said Leslie Lipson, a lawyer for the Georgia Advocacy Office. “It is a defensive posture in anticipation of possible legal action.”

Keeping the students in segregated settings, Lipson said, is “a pretty significant perversion of the spirit and the letter of the law.”

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