. . . protection needed in all states
Last month Angela Wilson wrote about a decision handed down by the United States Supreme Court with the potential to protect residents of Virginia's state hospitals. Potential, because the decision empowered Virginia's protection and advocacy entity (VOPA) to use federal courts to gain access to the state documents it needs for its work. The high court, however, did not require Virginia to release the relevant files. A legal victory, yes, but insufficient to meet the needs of those at greatest risk of harm. She also explained how investigative journalists documented disproportionate neglect and abuse of mentally ill people living in Florida's assisted living facilities.
Now we can add Alabama to the list of states where advocates are trying to force public accountability. In this case, it is for youngsters in Montgomery's public schools.
Yesterday the Bazelon Center and other advocates announced they filed complaints with the Alabama Department of Education "citing systemic failures by Montgomery Public Schools [MPS] to educate children with emotional disturbance." According to a press release, James Tucker, legal director for ADAP, Alabama's protection and advocacy system, said:
We asked the district to work with us to resolve these failures regarding educating children with emotional disturbance. Unfortunately, they were not interested in collaborating to address these urgent problems.
Advocates brought one complaint on behalf of a 13 year old diagnosed with ADHD and psychotic disorder. The allegations include a failure by the school district to provide the legally mandated special services that he, and others, need "to benefit from instruction in the least restrictive and most integrated setting."
Those who understand adolescents' behavioral challenges well understand how these difficulties can spiral without early intervention. The Alabama complaint contends that students with emotional disturbances in MPS fail to progress, drop out at a high rate, and are subjected to repeated yet avoidable disciplinary sanctions, including in-school and out-of-school suspensions, undocumented "cool off" removals (i.e., suspensions), placements in alternative schools, and expulsions. This mistreatment frequently results in many students with disabilities being pushed into the juvenile justice system.
Montgomery's schools aren't the only ones in Alabama providing inadequate services and care to students with mental health needs. Last year ADAP filed a complaint on behalf of students in the Tuscaloosa County School District with similar allegations.
We fear this is just the edge of a pervasive pattern of neglect, inappropriate treatment, and denial of services, and applaud efforts to challenge and reverse the erosion of protections all should be able to count on.