Justice Department Finds Alabama’s Foster Care System Violates the Americans With Disabilities Act by Discriminating Against Students With Disabilities
Department of Justice Press Release Number: 22-1090 - Topic(s): Civil Rights Disability Rights
The Department of Justice today notified the state of Alabama of its findings that the state illegally discriminates against children in foster care with emotional and behavioral disabilities. The department concluded that Alabama has relegated hundreds of students with disabilities to segregated and inferior educational programs in violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The department’s findings follow an investigation into allegations that the state denies children in foster care equal opportunity to basic educational services on the basis of disability.
“Students with disabilities in Alabama’s foster care system are among the most vulnerable in the state’s care, and they deserve better than placement in segregated and inferior schools,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The Civil Rights Division will defend every child’s right to equal educational opportunities in schools where they can be supported and challenged.”
Alabama is charged with providing educational services for children in its foster care system, including when the state places those children in psychiatric residential treatment facilities (PRTFs). Children in foster care who are placed in Alabama’s PRTFs are often automatically enrolled in segregated on-site schools without an appropriate educational assessment and regardless of their academic abilities. These unnecessary placements, which can extend for long periods of time, sever children’s ties to their home schools, teachers, social activities, and peers. The department concluded that, in most cases, these children could be appropriately served in general education settings where they would receive the many documented academic and social benefits of inclusion.
The department’s investigation found a lack of appropriate oversight and monitoring by the state of education services provided to students in PRTFs. Among other concerns, the state does not require that PRTFs consider whether the students could be served in age-appropriate community educational settings. Instead, the state permits the facilities to automatically enroll these students in the school located on the PRTF campuses. In these highly-segregated placements, they often lack access to grade-appropriate curricula, adequate instruction, facilities such as libraries, science labs, and gyms, and activities such as sports and extracurriculars.
The Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division Educational Opportunities Section with the assistance of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Alabama conducted this investigation. The full findings letter can be found below.
Enforcement of Title II of the ADA, and the integration mandate of Olmstead v. L.C., is a priority of the Civil Rights Division. Additional information about the Civil Rights Division is available on its website at www.justice.gov/crt, and additional information about the work of the Educational Opportunities Section is available at www.justic.gov/crt/educational-opportunities-section.
Members of the public may report possible civil rights violations at www.civilrights.justice.gov/.