04/05/2012

Department of Justice to Investigate Discrimination in Georgia Public Schools Following Southern Poverty Law Center Complaint

The U.S. Department of Justice has advised the Southern Poverty Law Center that it will investigate discrimination against students with disabilities in the Georgia public school system. The decision by the department’s Civil Rights Division follows an SPLC complaint filed with the Department of Justice in November.

The SPLC complaint describes how the Georgia Department of Education violates the Americans with Disabilities Act by using a school funding formula that encourages districts to unnecessarily segregate students with disabilities to receive more money.

“Too often, special needs children who have demonstrated significant progress in an integrated classroom are separated from their peers because it means the school district will receive more money,” said Jerri Katzerman, SPLC deputy legal director. “We are pleased that the Department of Justice recognizes this problem, and is committed to ensuring these students have equal access to a quality education.”

The Georgia General Assembly established the state’s school funding policy, which provides this financial incentive for segregating these students, in 1985 when it passed the Quality Basic Education Act.

“Students with disabilities often face discrimination by teachers and their peers due to assumptions about what it means to have a disability,” said Jadine Johnson, an SPLC staff attorney. “Research shows that when students with and without disabilities are placed in the same classroom, they are better prepared to embrace diversity and inclusivity.”

The department’s Civil Rights Division works to uphold the civil and constitutional rights of all Americans, particularly some of the most vulnerable members of society. The division enforces federal statutes prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, disability, religion, familial status and national origin.