DOJ finds Alabama’s foster care system violates law

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The federal government said Wednesday that the state of Alabama unlawfully discriminates against foster children with behavioral and emotional disorders.

The U.S. Department of Justice, in a press release, said the state’s foster care program illegally placed hundreds of disabled students in “separate and inferior educational programs,” a direct violation of Title II. of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Students with disabilities in Alabama’s foster care system are among the most vulnerable in the state’s care, and they deserve better than being placed in segregated and inferior schools,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, of the department’s civil rights division, in a statement. “The Civil Rights Division will uphold the right of every child to equal educational opportunity in schools where they can be supported and challenged.”

The department’s findings follow an investigation into allegations that the state is denying children in foster care equal opportunity to basic educational services on the basis of disability.

Gina Maiola, director of communications for Governor Kay Ivey, said in a statement that the Alabama State Department of Education and Department of Human Resources “has been working proactively since 2018 to meet the needs of our specialized treatment centers”.

“These two agencies have been in communication with the Ministry of Justice to inform them of the measures taken in this regard. I know that ALSDE and DHR will respond to any specific concerns expressed by the USDOJ. Ultimately, one of the top priorities of the Ivey administration is to ensure that every student in Alabama has the opportunity to receive a quality education,” Maiola said.

The state is required to provide educational services to children placed in the foster care system, including when children are placed in residential psychiatric treatment facilities. According to the DOJ, students who are placed in such treatment facilities are automatically enrolled in on-site separate schools without proper educational assessment.

In these separate placements, the DOJ said students lacked access to age-appropriate study materials, adequate instruction, and facilities such as libraries, science labs, and gymnasiums.

“These unnecessary placements, which can span long periods of time, sever children’s ties to their home schools, teachers, social activities and peers,” Clarke’s office said. “The department concluded that, in most cases, these children could be adequately served in general educational settings where they would experience the many documented academic and social benefits of inclusion.”

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