ACLU Sues Over Failed Privately-Run Alternative School In Atlanta

Affiliate: ACLU of Georgia
March 11, 2008 12:00 am

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Group Says Students Denied Constitutional Right To Education While Corporation Profits

ATLANTA – In a case with national implications, the American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Georgia filed a class action lawsuit today against the Atlanta Independent School System (AISS) and Community Education Partners (CEP) for violating students’ constitutional right to an adequate public education. CEP is a for-profit corporation paid nearly $7 million a year by the city to run its alternative school, which is among the most dangerous and lowest performing schools in Georgia.

“The appalling performance of Community Education Partners is matched by the dereliction of the city of Atlanta in its duty to provide students with an adequate public education,” said Emily Chiang, a staff attorney with the ACLU Racial Justice Program. “It is a national disgrace that the Atlanta school system has handed over its constitutional responsibility to a private, for-profit corporation and let the taxpayers and children of Atlanta pay the price.”

The ACLU’s lawsuit, which was brought on behalf of eight students, charges that the school district and CEP are in violation of multiple federal and state constitutional obligations, including the students’ right to be free from unreasonable searches. AISS-CEP was designed as a privately-run, taxpayer-funded alternative middle and high school for students with behavioral problems. However, the placement process is often arbitrary and students who do not belong at AISS-CEP are given few meaningful opportunities to challenge compulsory assignment to the school.

CEP has run alternative schools in Houston, Philadelphia, Richmond, Orlando, and Florida’s Pinnellas and Bay districts through contracts with public school systems since 1995. In 2005, CEP’s annual revenues totaled $70 million. Since its contract began with AISS in 2002, Atlanta’s taxpayers have paid CEP a total of $36,570,941. CEP’s record nationwide is similarly poor and suggests a political strategy to win contracts and increase profits, not a commitment to education, according to the ACLU.

The performance and practices of the AISS-CEP school is abysmal by nearly every available measurement. For example:

  • Not a single child at the school made it to senior year in 2006;
  • The school has a “no homework” policy and also prohibits students from taking supplies home – including books.
  • AISS-CEP has no cafeteria, no gym and no library;
  • Students are subjected to full body pat-down searches that include even the soles of their feet every day, and all students – both boys and girls – are forced to lift their shirts up to their necks in front of the search team;
  • Watches, jewelry, purses, combs, brushes, keys, and money in excess of five dollars are all considered contraband and are strictly prohibited — girls are not permitted even to bring tampons into the building;
  • In 2006-2007, 91.1 percent of students failed to achieve proficiency in math and 65.8 percent failed to achieve proficiency in reading on Georgia’s statewide Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests.
  • Fewer than 23 percent of students at the school met or exceeded standards across all subjects, compared to two nearby alternative schools where over 50 percent of students did; and
  • The AISS-CEP School alone accounted for 67.7 percent of all reported incidents of battery, 46 percent of all reported incidents of vandalism, and 20 percent of all reported incidents of gun possession in the district.

“Parents and taxpayers deserve better than a system that simply funnels their children through a pathway to prison,” said Reggie Shuford, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU Racial Justice Program. “It would be a stretch to even call this a school since there is little to no academic instruction and its students are treated like criminals – it is nothing more than a warehouse largely for poor children of color.”

The education practices at the AISS-CEP school range from the bizarre to the blatantly unconstitutional. For example, no functional curriculum exists at the school and teachers spend little time instructing students. Rather, students spend most of the day filling out worksheets, for which they receive no feedback. Teachers employed by AISS-CEP are extremely inexperienced relative to their local peers. In 2006-2007, teachers at AISS-CEP averaged only 0.94 years of experience compared to teachers in other local alternative schools, who averaged 19.07 years and 10.58 years, respectively.

“Under this arrangement, students suffer while a private company prospers and nobody is held accountable,” said Mawuli Davis, a cooperating attorney from the law firm Davis Bozeman. “If Atlanta is going to farm out its responsibilities to a third party, it must still uphold its constitutional obligations to these children.”

Attorneys on the case are Chiang, Shuford, and Larry Schwartztol of the ACLU Racial Justice Program, Nancy Abudu of the ACLU Southern Regional Office, Chara Jackson of the ACLU of Georgia, and cooperating attorneys Davis and Robert Bozeman of Davis Bozeman.

Profiles of clients in today’s case are available at:

A copy of today’s legal complaint is available at:

More information on the work of the ACLU Racial Justice Program is available at:

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