DOJ finds Alabama’s foster care system violates law


The Department of Justice in downtown Washington DC.

Getty Images

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The federal government on Wednesday said the state of Alabama illegally discriminates against children in foster care with behavioral and emotional disabilities.

The U.S. Department of Justice, in a news release, said the state’s foster care program has illegally placed hundreds of students with disabilities into “segregated and inferior educational programs,” a direct violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Students with disabilities in Alabama’s foster care system are among the most vulnerable in the state’s care, and they deserve better than placement in segregated and inferior schools,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, of the department’s Civil Rights Division, said in a statement. “The Civil Rights Division will defend every child’s right to equal educational opportunities in schools where they can be supported and challenged.”

The department’s findings follow an investigation into allegations that the state denies children in foster care equal opportunity to basic educational services on the basis of disability.

Gina Maiola, communications director for Gov. Kay Ivey, said in a statement that the Alabama State Department of Education and the Department of Human Resources have been “working proactively since 2018 to address the needs of our specialized treatment centers.”

“These two agencies have been in communication with the Department of Justice to inform them on the steps being taken in that regard. I know the ALSDE and DHR will address any specific concerns given by the USDOJ. Bottom line, a top priority of the Ivey Administration is to ensure every Alabama student has the ability to receive a quality education,” Maiola said.

The state is required to provide educational services for children in the foster care system, including when children are placed in psychiatric residential treatment facilities. According to the DOJ, students who are placed in such treatment facilities are automatically enrolled in segregated on-site schools without an appropriate educational assessment.

In these segregated placements, the DOJ said students lack access to age-appropriate study materials, adequate instruction and facilities such as libraries, science labs and gyms.

“These unnecessary placements, which can extend for long periods of time, sever children’s ties to their home schools, teachers, social activities and peers,” Clarke’s office said. “The department concluded that, in most cases, these children could be appropriately served in general education settings where they would receive the many documented academic and social benefits of inclusion.”


Q&A: Prison reform advocate Terrance Winn on gun violence in Shreveport, Louisiana

Winn sat down with the Gulf States Newsroom's Kat Stromquist to discuss what causes Shreveport to struggle with shootings, and what could help.

Should heat waves get names like hurricanes? Some believe it could help save lives

As heat waves and heat domes become more intense, the idea of naming extreme heat as we do with other major disasters is gaining traction with some experts.

Gun violence and incarceration issues go ‘hand in hand’ in this Louisiana city, residents say

Some residents say Shreveport’s history of mass incarceration has changed their community — and their families.

Price increases? Job losses? How will UAB’s acquisition of St. Vincent’s impact local health care?

The president of Alabama’s hospital association says the acquisition will help maintain access to care, but some economists predict the move will lead to job cuts and higher health care costs.

In the fight against gun violence, this Gulf South city is searching for ways to save lives

As violent crime slows down across the South, Shreveport, Louisiana, is reckoning with the aftermath of an unusually deadly 2023.

UAB to acquire Ascension St. Vincent’s for $450 million

Under the agreement, UAB will assume control of all Ascension St. Vincent's hospitals and providers in Alabama.

More Front Page Coverage