APS, ACLU Settle CEP Lawsuit

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The Atlanta Independent School System (AISS) agreed this week to implement a number of improvements at its alternative school as part of a settlement of a federal lawsuit brought last year by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the ACLU of Georgia.

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

Atlanta’s Forrest Hill Academy, pictured here in Fall 2008. – Photo by Jonathan Springston, Senior Staff Writer, Atlanta Progressive News

“AISS deserves a tremendous amount of credit for reaffirming its commitment to providing all of its students with an adequate public education,” Reginald T. Shuford, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Racial Justice Program, said in a statement Wednesday. “Today’s agreement is a very hopeful sign that the students at Forrest Hill will from here on out receive the kind of quality education they deserve and to which they are entitled.”

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.

CEP is a 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 ACLU announced July 30 that it had dropped CEP from its lawsuit after the AISS announced it would not renew a $7 million contract with the private company to run the school.

Stephen J. Alford, spokesman for the Atlanta Public Schools, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in July 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,” Alford told the paper. “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.”

The ACLU outlined the terms of the settlement thusly:

As part of the agreement, AISS officials will ensure that students at Forrest Hill Academy are free from unreasonable searches, that the constitutional due process rights of students are upheld when they are assigned to the school or disciplined and that a learning environment be cultivated that effectively facilitates students’ return to traditional schools as quickly as reasonably possible.

According to terms of the settlement, AISS officials will utilize a curriculum at Forrest Hill that is based on the Georgia performance standards under state law and which is substantially similar to the curriculum available at Atlanta’s other public schools, including services for students with disabilities and remedial classes. All Forrest Hill students will be subjected to discipline in a manner that upholds applicable law and constitutional standards of due process. And no Forrest Hill student will be subjected to intrusive searches without authorities first articulating reasonable suspicion.

APN wrote about the ACLU lawsuit in May 2008 and toured Forrest Hill in October 2008.

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