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Lawsuits against AL officials allege discrimination against disabled children

Six lawsuits that allege “systemic discrimination against children with disabilities” were filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama.

The lawsuits claim that Nancy Buckner, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Human Resources, and Eric Mackey, state superintendent of the Alabama Department of Education, violated the Americans with Disabilities Act in their handling of some of the state’s disabled students.

Pensacola attorney Caleb Cunningham of Levin, Papantonio, and Rafferty; and Birmingham attorneys Jeremy Knowles of Morris Haynes; and Tommy James of Tommy James Law are representing the plaintiffs.

According to the suit, children with disabilities in residential treatment facilities are discriminated against by being segregated in on-site “schools,” which then denies them educational opportunities equal to their non-disabled peers in regular education settings.

“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. Our goal is to shine a spotlight on this blatant discrimination and to ensure it does not continue,” Cunningham said. “We are committed to fighting for the rights of children with disabilities and ensuring they have the same opportunities as their non-disabled peers.”

The lawsuits, according to Knowles, will be invaluable in fighting ongoing discrimination.

“These cases are about the fundamental rights of children with disabilities in our state,” said Knowles. “We filed these lawsuits to force the state to stop discriminating against these children. They deserve equal opportunity, especially in education.”

James said findings during an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice were “deeply troubling.”

“The Department of Justice’s findings are deeply troubling and underscore the need for immediate action to ensure our most vulnerable have equal access to education,” he said. “It is inexcusable state officials have ignored and been complicit in such systemic segregation and discrimination. The DOJ’s revelations are not only concerning — they are damning. Every child, irrespective of disability, is entitled to equal educational opportunities.

“We are confident we will prevail in these lawsuits, and the State of Alabama will be forced to change its discriminatory practices.”

The lawsuits seek compensatory damages, attorney’s fees, and costs.

A DHR spokesperson said the agency does not comment on pending litigation. The Alabama Department of Education did not return a request for comment.

Austen Shipley is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News.

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