BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — The U.S. Department of Justice has concluded that the State of Alabama discriminates against students with emotional and behavioral disabilities in the foster care system by relegating them to “segregated and inferior educational programs” in violation of federal law.

The decision, announced Wednesday by the DOJ, said an extensive investigation by federal officials found that Alabama’s foster care system inappropriately enrolled children with disabilities into segregated facilities automatically “without an appropriate educational assessment and regardless of their academic abilities.”

“In these highly-segregated placements, they [foster children with disabilities] often lack access to grade-appropriate curricula, adequate instruction, facilities such as libraries, science labs and gyms and activities such as sports and extracurriculars,” the DOJ said in a findings letter sent to state officials.

“We’re given the same work even though we’re in different grades,” one Alabama student said, according to the DOJ.

“I had help in school before I was in facilities. I am not getting enough help now,” another said.

“I know it ain’t real school,” a third added.

The DOJ’s investigation also revealed that some facilities used physical restraint on children inappropriately.

“Records reflect that even children with histories of severe sexual and physical
abuse have been physically restrained,” the letter said. “These responses can traumatize and retraumatize students in a way that can harm their ability to trust their environment and allow them to feel safe enough to learn at school or benefit from therapy.”

Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general in the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, said the Alabama students at issue in the case deserve better than the treatment they are currently receiving.

“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,” Clarke said. “The Civil Rights Division will defend every child’s right to equal educational opportunities in schools where they can be supported and challenged.”

In its letter to state officials, the DOJ listed actions the state should take to remedy the violations of federal law and improve the treatment of the students impacted by Alabama’s policies, including updating licensure requirements, developing an appropriate complaint process, prohibiting the use of seclusion and limiting physical restraint of students.

CBS 42 reached out to Alabama’s departments of education and human resources for comment but did not immediately hear back Wednesday morning.

You can read the DOJ’s letter in full below.