Do we need the Georgia Network for Educational and Therapeutic Support in Texas?
The text of House Bill 23 has some worrying verbiage- and not just the lines that contradict IDEA protections. Should parents be worried about programs designed to target a segment of our population of children with disabilities? If the commissioner decided to include other categories of children-for example diagnoses such as ADHD or mental illnesses-what could this program look like?
Here is written "two-minute" testimony submitted yesterday and some insight as to how this type of program has evolved in another state:
Least Restrictive Environment: Children with disabilities under IDEA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, have the right to be educated in the environment in which they learn best with appropriate supplemental aids and services. By incentivizing schools to create separate programs, this bill puts school districts in the difficult position of proposing inappropriate placements based on funding opportunities.
Creating a program for a student with autism is no more appropriate than creating a program for students with blue eyes. Within that spectrum diagnosis, there are children who are geniuses and others who are intellectually disabled, some who are eloquent and some who are non-verbal. How would a separate program accommodate that diversity?
I would like to draw your attention to another US program that started with good intentions: the state of Georgia’s Network for Educational and Therapeutic Support (GNETS). Started in 1970, it was created to provide a statewide program for students with behavioral challenges in separate programs on regular campuses. Over the years, this program became the default placement for students with any behavioral issue-mild or serious- and the students were placed there reflexively over parents’ protest. Let’s not kid ourselves, unilateral school placement decisions are common there, and in Texas, they are allowed at the non-consensus ARD meeting under state law. Districts can provide the program they see fit while the parent explores their dispute options.
In 2015, after a group discrimination complaint against GNETS (filed with the Office for Civil Rights) was substantiated, the Department of Justice filed suit under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act to force corrective action. In a letter to Georgia’s Governor and Attorney General, DOJ’s Vanita Gupta stated that:
“In the education context, a segregated setting is one that fails to provide a student with opportunities to interact with his or her peers without disabilities to the fullest extent appropriate to the needs of the student.”
Please do not give our schools the incentive to start down this slippery slope. Fund the schools to provide individualized services based on unique needs without encouraging segregation.