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Be Here, Behave, Be Learning -- Be Sued

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May 8, 2008

Lawsuits certainly have a knack for bringing people-and information-out of the woodworks.

In March, the ACLU Racial Justice Program and ACLU of Georgia filed a lawsuit against the Atlanta Independent School System (AISS) and Community Education Partners (CEP), the for-profit company contracted since 2002 to run AISS’s disciplinary alternative school to the tune of almost $7 million a year. The lawsuit accuses the school-whose motto, if you can believe it, is ‘Be Here, Behave, Be Learning’-of violating students’ constitutional rights to an adequate public education, to be free from unreasonable searches, and to due process when referred to and disciplined at the school. Just some of the fun facts in the case include students being subject to pat-down searches on a daily basis, a prohibition on bringing anything into or out of the school (including keys, combs, pencils, paper, tampons and books), a no homework policy, and a police officer who slammed an innocent student’s head into the wall hard enough that his mother-who was not notified of the incident by the school-had to take him to the hospital.

The AISS-CEP school is yet another example of the school-to-prison pipeline, a national phenomenon that funnels youth of color out of classrooms and into prisons (or prison-like schools) by treating them as dangerous criminals in need of containment rather than students worthy of instruction. The school is also, as a new article by Creative Loafing (Atlanta’s alternative weekly) explains, a product of Republican educational policy, which has favored discipline, privatization, and test-based accountability. CEP’s success, the article suggests, is due not to its capacity to educate youth, but to its ability to use its political ties to win contracts from Texas to Florida to Philadelphia. It should come as no surprise, then, that CEP’s contract in Atlanta was renewed until 2009 shortly after CEP leadership made campaign contributions to four individuals running for the Atlanta Board of Education.

Since the ACLU filed its lawsuit, CEP’s failure to educate students has become a hot topic, and people familiar with the school-from parents to former administrators-have begun to speak out. In addition to the Creative Loafing story, the Atlanta Journal Constitution has published three articles (available here, here and here), NPR covered the issue, the Atlanta Voice and Atlanta Progressive News both ran stories, and a post appeared on Daily Kos. Let’s hope the media spotlight continues to show who is truly misbehaving.

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