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Summary Judgment Victory in Georgia IDEA Class Action for Students in Adult Jail

Contact: Camilla Jenkins, cjenkins@childrensrights.com

ATLANTA, GA — On September 16, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia granted Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment in T.H. v. DeKalb County School District.  The Court held that a trial is not necessary for the Plaintiff class to prevail on its claim that the DeKalb County Sherriff has violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This is the first decision in the 11th Circuit to hold that the IDEA entitles students with disabilities to special education within adult jails.

The case was filed in 2019 and is being litigated by Children’s Rights, the Barton Juvenile Defender Clinic at Emory University School of Law, Bondurant Mixson & Elmore, LLP, and Hecht Walker, P.C., on behalf of incarcerated youth aged 17 through 21 with a qualifying disability who have a right to special education services and accommodations under the IDEA and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)/Section 504. It was filed against the DeKalb County School District, the Georgia Department of Education, and the DeKalb County Sheriff.

The DeKalb County School District and Georgia Department of Education have agreed to settle the claims against them. The Court’s ruling removes the last impediment to obtaining the relief that the class seeks: special education and related services in the DeKalb County Jail.

For more than a decade, hundreds of disabled students locked up in the DeKalb County jail, one of the largest in the country, have not been getting the special education services they’re entitled to under federal law. Detained youth are disproportionately Black and frequently caught in the “school to prison pipeline.” In Georgia, 32% of residents are Black, while Black people represent 51% of the jail population and 60% of the prison population.

“The court’s decision today sends a message to students in the jail I have been fighting to defend for over a decade: you are worthy of educating; we are not giving up on you,” said Randee Waldman, Clinical Professor of Law, and the Director of the Barton Juvenile Defender Clinic at Emory University School of Law. “An education is a transformative experience that you deserve – and being in jail is no justification for denying you the chance for a successful life.”

“As a product of the DeKalb County School system myself, I am proud of this victory for our clients who are eager to learn while in the jail.  Education for incarcerated people with disabilities is legally required, and studies have shown that participation in these programs helps decrease recidivism and poverty upon release,” said Christina Remlin, Lead Counsel, at Children’s Rights.

“This decision enables us to ensure that students with disabilities are identified, evaluated and provided with the education services to which they are entitled under federal law while in the DeKalb County Jail.  It will require the DeKalb County Jail to follow many other jurisdictions across the country that have successfully incorporated this programming into their jails, with positive outcomes for students,” said David Brackett, Partner, Bondurant Mixson & Elmore, LLP.

Click here to read more about T.H. v. DeKalb County School District »

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Bondurant, Mixson & Elmore, LLP: Bondurant, Mixson & Elmore, LLP is a powerhouse litigation firm in Atlanta, GA, which routinely has been involved in cases of national significance for over 40 years. The firm can be found online at www.bmelaw.com. 

Hecht Walker Jordan, P.C.: The attorneys at Hecht Walker Jordan, P.C. have over a century of cumulative experience in a broad variety of specialized practices including corporate, real estate, civil rights and family law serving all 28 counties in the metro Atlanta area and other counties throughout the state of Georgia. The firm provides representation to individuals, small businesses, large corporations, and government bodies. https://hechtwalker.com/

Barton Juvenile Defender Clinic at Emory University School of Law: A clinical offering of the Barton Child Law & Policy Center that serves as an in-house legal clinic dedicated to providing holistic legal representation for children in the juvenile and criminal justice systems. For more information, please visit http://law.emory.edu/academics/clinics/barton-juvenile-defender-clinic.html.

Children’s Rights: Every day, children are harmed in America’s broken child welfare, juvenile justice, education, and healthcare systems. Through relentless strategic advocacy and legal action, we hold governments accountable for keeping kids safe and healthy. Children’s Rights, a national non-profit organization, has made a lasting impact for hundreds of thousands of vulnerable children. For more information, please visit www.childrensrights.org.

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