DOJ: Alabama foster care program discriminates against students with disabilities

Published: Oct. 13, 2022 at 10:18 PM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - The U.S. Department of Justice says Alabama’s foster care program has discriminated against children with disabilities in state psychiatric facilities.

The federal government says Alabama’s foster program has illegally placed hundreds of students with disabilities into “segregated and inferior educational programs”. The DOJ says that’s a direct violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The Justice Department says the state’s foster care system must provide students with a quality education, but some students placed in psychiatric residential treatment facilities do not always receive adequate instruction and are denied access to libraries, science labs and gyms.

“It’s a mess all around,” Birmingham attorney Tommy James said.

Local attorney Tommy James has 10 cases involving alleged abuse and neglect inside these psychiatric facilities around the state. James isn’t surprised at the DOJ’s findings.

“It basically confirms what my clients have been telling me for years. There’s little to no education in the facilities,” James said.

James tells us these children are already traumatized going into these facilities.

“It’s stated throughout the report that these children, based on what the state is doing and what operators of the facilities are doing, they are setting up these children to fail. These are our most vulnerable children we’re talking about,” James said.

State education leaders saying Thursday they are working with Alabama DHR leadership to rectify the situation and bring Alabama into compliance.

“We’re committed to every child getting a high-quality education, that includes children who are in psychiatric care. It includes all children who have special needs. And so we want to know what DOJ suggested and we’ll look at those changes and I’m sure there will be some changes down the road, but I can’t comment on what specifically they might be yet,” State Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey said.

A spokesperson for the governor says state education and DHR have been working proactively since 2018 to address the needs of our specialized treatment centers. The statement goes onto say a top priority of the Ivey administration is to ensure every Alabama student has the ability to receive a quality education.

You can read more about the DOJ’s findings here:

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