ACLU Drops CEP from Federal Lawsuit

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) announced Thursday that it is dropping Community Education Partners, Inc. (CEP) from its federal lawsuit after the Atlanta Independent School System (AISS) declined this week to renew a $7 million contract with the private company to run its school.

Atlanta's CEP school, Forrest Hill Academy, pictured here Fall 2008. - Photo by Jonathan Springston, Senior Staff Writer, Atlanta Progressive NewsAtlanta’s Forrest Hill Academy, pictured here Fall 2008. – Photo by Jonathan Springston, Senior Staff Writer, Atlanta Progressive News

“The appalling performance of the school while run by CEP highlights the significant problems inherent to the privatization of public education and AISS deserves credit for ending its relationship with CEP,” Reginald T. Shuford, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU Racial Justice Program, said in a press release. “It is of paramount importance, however, that this be only a first step. It is now incumbent upon AISS to honor its commitment to provide all of its students with an adequate public education.”

CEP is a Nashville-based, for-profit corporation designed to serve as a taxpayer-funded, privately-run alternative school for middle and high school students. Their goal is to tackle the problem of handling disruptive and low-performing students.

CEP entered into a contract with the AISS in 2002, joining other cities with similar schools like Houston, Orlando, Philadelphia, and Richmond, Virginia. Since entering into the contract, Atlanta taxpayers have paid $50 million to CEP.

“The driving motivation of private, for-profit educational companies is not to provide quality education, but rather to make money,” Debbie Seagraves, Executive Director of the ACLU of Georgia, said Thursday. “And, too often, these companies are not held accountable. Here in Atlanta, it’s the children and taxpayers who have paid the price.”

The ACLU filed a class-action suit against CEP and AISS on March 11, 2008, alleging Atlanta’s privately-run, taxpayer-supported Forrest Hill Academy violates students’ constitutional right to an adequate public education and their right to be free from unreasonable searches.

The AISS remains a defendant in the suit and “bears full responsibility for improving the school’s performance and practices,” the ACLU said Thursday.

APN previously reported on APS and CEP throughout 2008.

 

UPDATE:

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has this:

Stephen J. Alford, spokesman for the Atlanta Public Schools, said the district decided not to renew its contract with CEP after completing the company’s evaluation.

“APS believes that it is best suited to operate the program internally and is redesigning the program consistent with its school reform initiatives,” said Alford. “APS is committed to providing students assigned to Forrest Hills [Academy] with an appropriate curriculum and the necessary support services to help them be successful.”

It is unfortunate, he said, that the district must continue to expend resources to defend a lawsuit based on alleged conduct by an education provider it no longer utilizes.

CEP’s CEO, Randle Richardson, said he was relieved and grateful the ACLU agreed to drop the company from the suit.

He said it is disturbing the suit was filed with “no firsthand knowledge” of the program or before CEP could respond to the ACLU’s concerns.

“This was a clear indication they did not want the truth to get in the way of their organizational biases and public relations efforts,” Richardson said.

The ACLU and Atlanta school officials are engaged in discussions aimed at resolving the remainder of the lawsuit, which is pending in federal court in Atlanta, and administrative proceedings before the Atlanta Public School Board.

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