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Lawsuits allege Alabama discriminates against children with disabilities

The lawsuits allege children are being segregated in on-site “schools” at residential treatment facilities and are not given the same educational opportunities.


On Wednesday, multiple federal lawsuits were filed against Alabama officials for allegedly being discriminatory against children with disabilities and violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Six lawsuits in total were filed on behalf of children allegedly discriminated against. The Alabama officials named in the lawsuits are Nancy Buckner, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Human Resources, and Eric Mackey, state superintendent of the Alabama Department of Education.

All of the lawsuits involve different plaintiffs; however, they all rely on similar arguments such as the children being segregated in on-site “schools” at residential treatment facilities and are not given the same educational opportunities as their peers without disabilities. The plaintiffs and their attorneys reference a recent Department of Justice (DOJ) probe into Alabama and its findings to buttress the argument for their lawsuits. 

According to a letter of the findings from Oct. 2022, the DOJ reported that after conducting an investigation into Alabama, it found the Alabama Department of Human Resources and Alabama State Department of Education violated the ADA and discriminated against children at residential treatment centers. The lawsuits allege the findings of this probe are consistent with the complaints made by the plaintiffs.

“Based on our investigation, we conclude that the State, through its statewide system for delivering educational and therapeutic services, discriminates against students with emotional and behavioral disabilities in the foster care system who have been enrolled in Specialized
Treatment Centers (“STCs”) on the campuses of Alabama’s psychiatric residential treatment facilities (“PRTFs”),” wrote the DOJ. “…The vast majority of students enrolled in STCs while receiving residential care are unnecessarily segregated and could be served in general education schools given appropriate services and supports.”

The attorneys representing the families include Tommy James, Jeremy Knowles and Caleb Cunningham.

“We have filed these lawsuits not only for our clients but for every child in the state who has been robbed of the education they deserve,” Cunningham said.  “Our goal is to shine a spotlight on this blatant discrimination and to ensure it does not continue.  We are committed to fighting for the rights of children with disabilities and ensuring they have the same opportunities as their non-disabled peers.”

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The attorneys are confident in the litigation and according to James will pursue more lawsuits to hold Alabama accountable for discriminating against children with disabilities. The lawsuits seek compensation for the emotional, educational and social damages the plaintiffs suffered due to the alleged discrimination among other forms of recompense.

“With this legal action, we hope to bring attention to the dire need for reform and establish a precedent ensuring equal education rights for children with disabilities across Alabama and the nation,” James said.  “We are confident we will prevail in these lawsuits, and the State of Alabama will be forced to change its discriminatory practices.”

All six lawsuits will be attached here: Carter, Cavanaugh, Hicks, Hooper, Kritner, and Bonner.

Patrick Darrington is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected].

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The plaintiffs claim that they have continually faced unlawful discrimination in attempting to vote and hold office in Newbern.