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Exit Route for Atlanta Students Caught in the School-to-Prison Pipeline

Deuel Ross,
Racial Justice Program
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December 18, 2009

On Monday, the Board of the Atlanta Independent School System (AISS) voted to settle a federal lawsuit filed last year by the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Georgia. The lawsuit accused AISS and the privately run Community Education Partners (CEP) of failing to provide an adequate education to students at Forrest Hill Academy (FHA) — Atlanta’s alternative school for children with disciplinary issues or who are otherwise at risk of academic failure.

Since 2002, CEP — a for-profit corporation — was paid millions annually to run FHA. Under CEP, the school became part of the school-to-prison pipeline, a devastating process through which many of our children — particularly males and students of color — are inefficiently educated and then pushed out of public schools into the criminal justice system. The suit alleged that CEP provided students with no meaningful educational instruction and subjected students to daily dehumanizing body searches, which did little to improve students’ outcomes or school safety. Pressure from the lawsuit and the public led the Atlanta school system to end its contract with CEP several months ago, and CEP was subsequently dropped from the case. However, CEP continues to operate schools throughout the country and face similar accusations in other school districts.

With this settlement, the Atlanta school board reaffirmed its commitment to creating a learning environment that will provide an adequate education to students at FHA. The Board agreed to a set of guiding principles aimed at curbing unreasonable searches, improving facilities, establishing a consistent process for transferring students to the school, and implementing a new curriculum.

The Atlanta school board has promised to provide all of its students with the respect and the academic and behavioral support they deserve and desperately need. The ACLU will closely monitor the progress the Atlanta school system makes in ensuring that the school provides an important and viable exit route from the school-to-prison pipeline and back into mainstream schools for these underserved students.

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