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.