ACLU and Atlanta settle case over alternative school

In 2008, the ACLU filed suit against a privately run Atlanta public alternative school that it alleged was closer to a prison than a school. In its lawsuit against the Atlanta Board of Education and Community Education Partners, the private company contracted to run the city’s alternative program, the ACLU said the school was violent and dangerous.

According to the lawsuit, Forrest Hill Academy documented 189 fights among its 415 students in 2006. Now, the suit has been settled.

From Will Matthews at the ACLU:

Today, we formally settled our lawsuit against the Atlanta Independent School System, which charged Forrest Hill Academy, the city’s alternative school, with providing students an inadequate education and violating some of their core constitutional rights.

Operated until this past summer by the for-profit company Community Education Partners, the school essentially was a day prison for at-risk kids, the majority of whom are kids of color. AISS ended its contract with CEP this past summer and resumed control of the school, and has now agreed, as part of today’s settlement, to a broad range of improvements.

Atlanta Independent School System officials have agreed to implement a broad array of improvements at its alternative school as part of a settlement of a federal lawsuit filed last year by the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Georgia.

“Today’s agreement is a very hopeful sign that the students at Forrest Hill will from here on out receive the kind of quality education they deserve and to which they are entitled,” said Reginald T. Shuford, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Racial Justice Program.

The ACLU and the ACLU of Georgia filed the lawsuit in March 2008 charging AISS and CEP with violating students’ constitutional rights under both federal and state law. CEP is a for-profit corporation that was paid approximately $7 million a year by the city to run the school until AISS severed its contract with the company earlier this year. The ACLU dropped CEP as a defendant in the lawsuit after AISS ended its contract with the company.

The lawsuit specifically charged that students’ rights to be free from unreasonable searches was routinely violated at the taxpayer-funded alternative middle and high school for students with behavioral problems, and that the performance and practices of the school were abysmal by nearly every available measurement.

“It is a real credit to AISS leaders that they have expressed such a strong commitment to ensuring that the education provided to the school’s students meets constitutional standards,” said Debbie Seagraves, Executive Director of the ACLU of Georgia. “Students don’t deserve to be stuck in a system that simply funnels them on a pathway toward prison, and the commitment of AISS to the students at Forrest Hill will go a long way toward making sure they succeed academically and later in life.”

As part of the agreement, AISS officials will ensure that students at Forrest Hill Academy are free from unreasonable searches, that the constitutional due process rights of students are upheld when they are assigned to the school or disciplined and that a learning environment be cultivated that effectively facilitates students’ return to traditional schools as quickly as reasonably possible.

According to terms of the settlement, AISS officials will utilize a curriculum at Forrest Hill that is based on the Georgia performance standards under state law and which is substantially similar to the curriculum available at Atlanta’s other public schools, including services for students with disabilities and remedial classes. All Forrest Hill students will be subjected to discipline in a manner that upholds applicable law and constitutional standards of due process. And no Forrest Hill student will be subjected to intrusive searches without authorities first articulating reasonable suspicion.

11 comments Add your comment


December 16th, 2009
5:23 pm

$7,000,000 for 415 students equates to $16,867 per student. WOW.

Ole Guy

December 16th, 2009
6:01 pm

I know this is a “broken record”…it would have been (and could be) a whole lot cheaper, and a hellava lot more effective to introduce these kids to “Parris Island relocated to South Ga”

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December 16th, 2009
7:49 pm

Are they serious? Have any of you visited this school or seen these kids? There was a good reason they ran it like a prison…because the kids act just like out-of-control inmates.


December 16th, 2009
8:06 pm

James -

If you think the $$ was actually spent on the kids in that school – I have some swamp land to sell you.

drew (former teacher)

December 17th, 2009
6:30 am

I taught at a metro Atlanta alternative school for 7 years. The vast majority of our students came to us from disciplinary tribunals. We also had several students that came from CEP, and based on what I heard from them, CEP was indeed out of control. I would say 80% of our students were referred for chronic disruptive behavior, and sadly, most of them simply lacked the desire and discipline to obtain an education. (Oddly enough, our best students were usually the ones who were referred because of drug or weapons; they had made mistakes, but they at least knew how to “do school”, and they had the desire and capacity to learn.)

I’d love to say I had lots of success turning these kids around, but that’s simply not the case. Sure, there were success stories, but the vast majority of these students had no desire to do the work necessary to gain an education. Several students attended school only because they didn’t want their probation officer to “violate them”, and have them incarcerated. Most of these students were from single mother households, and I wish I had a dollar for every time a mother told me, “I can’t do anything with him/her”. Many of the parents expected the school to “fix” their children. Ahhh….if only it were that simple.

You cannot teach someone who refuses to be taught. In this era of NCLB, that’s a blasphemus thought, but it’s a cold hard fact. The best thing the state could do to address discipline problems in public schools would be to lower the age of compulsory education to 13, or better yet, do away with it altogether. Then they could do away with these ineffective Alternative schools, expel those who “cannot do school”, and make schools a place of discipline and learning. Make schools a place for teaching those who WANT to learn, and allow those who don’t to move on with their lives. Forcing kids who have no desire for an education to attend school is a big part of the problem.

“No child left behind” sounds great in theory, but the reality is that those who have no desire to learn will be left behind. And maybe leaving them behind would be to the overall benefit of those that DO want to learn.

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Just a Thought

December 17th, 2009
2:56 pm

I agree that “school” is not for everyone. This is why I strongly disagree with the thinking that we should prepare every student for college. Every student is not going to college. College is not for every student. We NEED to bring back our vocational/career programs where students who struggle with the traditional school setting can learn a skill or trade where they can support themselves upon graduation. These career classes should be taught with rigor and should not be dumping grounds for “discipline” kids. The best education for every student does not mean the SAME education. As an educator, that is just not realistic. There is nothing wrong with one kid graduating with a college prep diploma and another graduating with a certificate in HVAC repair. We all learn differently and the reason our schools are failing is because we are trying to make one model meet a myriad of needs and interests. This is why some kids act out. They are bored and disinterested. And in my opinion, rightfully so.

Call Me Crazy But...

December 17th, 2009
3:36 pm

Not educating, or attempting to educate those who have no desire would lead to a world of even more chaos, escalated robberies, murders, and other violent crimes because they then begin to function with the mindset of take and survive. At least, they are provided with some semblance of structure, rules, and academic and social services in the building – or they should be. There are school districts who have successful alternative programs. Its unfortunate Atlanta obviously doesn’t care. Alternative programs are supposed to be designed to provide services to educate and nurture the whole child (academically, socially, and emotionally), so that when they return to their home school they have a chance at catching up and succeeding. Whether it be vocational or academic, we still have a responsibility to offer the services. Its cheaper to try to teach them than it is to throw up our hands, wait for them to kill somebody, and pay for services in prison for the rest of their lives.


December 17th, 2009
5:18 pm

Call Me Crazy But….I have been looking for districts that do a good job with their students in Alternative Schools – you mentioned there are some. Can you post which ones you think are doing a good job ? I won’t debate anything you say – just interested in what you have seen.

Call Me Crazy But...

December 17th, 2009
8:07 pm

Jennifer, DeKalb has several alternative schools because the needs of the children are different- one for expelled, a truancy school, a transition school for students being release from jail, night school, and a few others. Rockdale has a good program; Newton uses Project Adventure, which is excellent; and Douglas County uses Ombudsman to at least give the students some vocational skills. I’ve worked in the alternative setting for 10 years, and the district and the principal have to believe that these children can be successful; otherwise, you end up with this mess like Atlanta.