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Additional Nelson Mullins Alerts

October 12, 2017

Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against Georgia’s Special Education GNETS Program

By Neeru "Nina" Gupta

A new class action lawsuit, filed on October 11, 2017, alleges that Georgia Network for Educational and Therapeutic Support (the GNETS program) illegally and unconstitutionally segregates disabled children.  Filed by several disability advocacy organizations and individuals, seeking to act on behalf of every child who is now or in the future will be placed in a GNETS program and those at serious risk of being placed in a GNETS program, the lawsuit alleges that GNETS programs serve as “dumping grounds” for behaviorally challenged disabled students, segregates them from their peers, and gives them an “inferior and unequal education.”  The lawsuit alleges the GNETS program violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment.

School systems have already seen an increase in scrutiny and media attention regarding GNETS along with parental requests to remove their children from GNETS programs, due to the United States Department of Justice’s lawsuit against the state.  This new class action lawsuit is independent of the DOJ’s efforts and will likely only increase that scrutiny.  Below are some general suggestions for school systems as they continue to support students with disabilities, including those in the GNETS program. 

Proactive steps to support students and families

  • Reassure your families that there have been no specific findings against your school system or their child’s class.
  • Emphasize the positive aspects of your GNETS program.  Share how GNETS students are integrated into the student body, and publicize educational opportunities and extracurricular activities available to all children.  Remind families about the extensive wrap-around and therapeutic services available in the GNETS program
  • Conduct an audit of your current GNETS placements.  Ensure that GNETS really is the least restrictive environment for these students and closely monitor ongoing services and progress.
  • Look for ways to minimize segregation and integrate GNETS students with the student body.  Include them in the yearbook; ensure they have the opportunity to participate in school clubs and extracurricular activities; eliminate practices of unnecessarily segregating GNETS students at lunch, recess, etc.

How to respond to parents concerned about a GNETS placement

  • Convene an IEP meeting to explain why the student is placed in GNETS.  Explain why the school determined GNETS was an appropriate placement.
  • Review the history of supports the student had previously received.
  • Compare and review student progress in previous settings versus the GNETS program.
  • Closely monitor and address student behaviors through a functional behavior assessment, behavior intervention plan, and behavioral data and be ready to revise services and placement when the student’s needs warrant it.

School systems should contact their legal counsel for specific assistance with questions regarding GNETS program and services.  The Education Team at Nelson Mullins is here to help.  With approximately 19 lawyers specifically dedicated to the representation of public school systems in the State of Georgia, we are uniquely equipped to meet your needs.  If we can be of assistance, please call one of us today.