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The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) notified the State of Alabama on Wednesday of findings that indicate the state’s foster care system violated the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

According to the DOJ, the department concluded that the foster care system “relegated hundreds of students with disabilities to segregated and inferior educational programs.” 

The DOJ claims this was in violation of Title II of the ADA, which “protects qualified individuals with disabilities from discrimination on the basis of disability in services, programs, and activities provided by State and local government entities.”

The DOJ accused the state of automatically enrolling foster care children in psychiatric residential treatment facilities (PRTFs) in schools on the PRTF facility without considering their academic ability to make it in the general classroom. 

Most of these children, the DOJ said, could be served better in the regular classroom.

According to the Polaris Teen Center, PRTFs provide out-of-home psychiatric care to children with higher-than-average mental health needs. 

According to the DOJ, the PRTF schools often lack the same resources as the general classroom, such as grade-appropriate curricula, quality instruction, library facilities, laboratories, gyms and extracurricular activities. 

In the DOJ’s Letter of Findings, a student placed in a PRTF facility is quoted as saying: “I had help in school before I was in facilities. I am not getting enough help now.”

Another student is quoted as saying that, in the PRTF facility, everyone gets the same work, regardless of grade level.

“Students with disabilities in Alabama’s foster care system are among the most vulnerable in the state’s care, and they deserve better than placement in segregated and inferior schools,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division. “The Civil Rights Division will defend every child’s right to equal educational opportunities in schools where they can be supported and challenged.”

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