As many of you may know, there is currently a lawsuit pending, filed by the US Department of Justice against the State of Georgia, alleging that the GNET program is discriminatory. Although not precisely legally relevant, the Georgia Department of Education is in the preliminary stages of drafting a new state rule governing the GNET program and services. (For those interested, the proposed draft rule can be found here.)
Whatever their motivation, the Georgia DOE has asked for public input on the proposed draft rule. Below are the comments I just submitted:
Good afternoon. My name is Tim Schwarz . I am an attorney who solely practices in the area of special education. Please accept this as my feedback to the draft proposed new rule regarding the GNETS. In reading the proposed new rules I have several concerns, based on my experiences with the difficulties my clients have had in their interactions with the GNETS system.
The first concern many of my clients have with the GNETS system is that it is often used as a quasi-discipline placement, rather than as a therapeutic placement. Student with behavior difficulties are referred to a GNETS placement by school principals who simply want the student removed from the building, without any consideration of whether (1) additional support can be provided in the current placement, (2) the GNETS placement is therapeutically appropriate, or (3) other the less restrictive placement available through the school district. The proposed rules do not provide sufficient guidance to prevent what is essentially use of GNETS as a discipline placement, and include no enforceable rights for students to avoid this inappropriate process.
Secondly, many behavior difficulties students show that lead school staff to seek a GNETS placement are caused by conditions such as autism and/or cognitive impairment, not stereotypical mental health issues that GNETS programs are aimed to address. There is no therapeutic basis to include mentally ill students and students whose behavior can be attributed to other causes in the same placement. Further, such common placement is likely legally inappropriate. Yet the proposed rules say very little about the need to avoid co-mingling students with different needs in a common setting. Further, the proposed rules include no enforceable provisions to prevent therapeutically and legally inappropriate placement co-mingling.
Finally and more importantly, students placed in a GNETS placement because of their mental health needs are not provided useful therapeutic support and counseling. Ideally, local schools would be staffed with certified mental health professionals to provide direct therapy and advice staff on supporting students suffering from mental illness. Not only do the proposed GNETS rules fail to provide a mechanism for creating this support in local schools, the proposed rules do not even mandate this level of support in the GNETS location.
A school psychologist could carry a caseload of students who to see on a regular basis to provide counseling services, as written into their IEPs or 504 plans. That is unheard of here in Georgia, but is something that we need, especially if we are to move to GNETS as a service model. The proposed rules as written do not even to contemplate changing the GNETS program from its current inadequate state to a more useful therapeutic and local educational option for students with mental illness.
Thank you for your consideration these comments on the proposed rule. Please feel free to contact me for any follow-up.