AUTISTIC FUTURE: A FUTURE OF OUR OWN

August 27th, 2016

I’m Glad My State Is Getting Sued

Well, not real­ly. This isn’t my first-choice out­come. I would rather have seen the state resolve the GNETS sit­u­a­tion much ear­li­er, of its own accord or when local advo­cates brought the prob­lem to its atten­tion, and for the right rea­sons. I would rather have seen this resolved with­out the colos­sal waste of tax­pay­ers’ mon­ey that will take place because the state is being obsti­nate. How­ev­er, the ware­hous­ing of chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties in sub­stan­dard facil­i­ties where lit­tle edu­ca­tion takes place, in like­ly vio­la­tion of Title II of the ADA’s inclu­sion man­date, needs to stop. If large-scale lit­i­ga­tion by the Jus­tice Depart­ment and oth­er enti­ties, and per­haps long-term, inde­pen­dent mon­i­tor­ing, will solve the prob­lem, so be it. It is so essen­tial that the state leave this behind that I’m hap­py to see the pace of change pick­ing up even if Geor­gia has to be dragged kick­ing and scream­ing into bet­ter prac­tices. Change is not just impor­tant for stu­dents lan­guish­ing in these sub­stan­dard schools and their loved ones. It’s ulti­mate­ly cru­cial for us all.

The GNETS are cer­tain­ly a threat to the short- and long-term wel­fare of chil­dren in them. They also have the poten­tial to cause col­lat­er­al dam­age, and every last in this state is in harm’s way. Geor­gia has a chance to be a place of some con­se­quence in the 21st cen­tu­ry. Indus­try is grow­ing. Peo­ple and busi­ness­es are mov­ing here. We have a city that can hold and dri­ve this growth. While greater Atlanta isn’t the world-class metrop­o­lis it wants to be, not yet, the city that makes no nat­ur­al sense is thriv­ing despite itself. Arts and cul­ture are on the rise. Walk­a­ble areas are spring­ing up. The cost of liv­ing is still much low­er than it is in oth­er towns with com­pa­ra­ble ameni­ties, which has the poten­tial to draw young peo­ple, artists, and fam­i­lies alike. It’s a city that has room for chil­dren in the urban core. The vicious, eco­nom­ic attack that region­al rival Char­lotte, NC recent­ly suf­fered at the hands of its own state leg­is­la­ture may cre­ate fur­ther oppor­tu­ni­ties. Geor­gia could have a bright future, with con­tin­ued growth for its edu­ca­tion­al insti­tu­tions, eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment alle­vi­at­ing rur­al pover­ty, and the legislature’s cof­fers full enough to fix shod­dy infra­struc­ture and care for those in need. There is no rea­son Geor­gia shouldn’t be a place where great things hap­pen, a mod­el for the rest of the region, but this state’s chance at a hap­py, pros­per­ous future comes with a price. If Geor­gia wants to be a place where great things hap­pen, it has to start act­ing like one.

If Geor­gia is to grow, the state must stop behav­ing in ways that are law­less, embar­rass­ing, and ulti­mate­ly self-defeat­ing. Parts of the world that are con­sid­ered inno­v­a­tive, admired, and desir­able as places to live behave in cer­tain ways. They have ade­quate pro­tec­tions for chil­dren, minori­ties, and vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple. They val­ue rule of law. They under­stand that every dol­lar spent on edu­ca­tion returns crim­i­nal jus­tice sav­ings and eco­nom­ic div­i­dends. Con­se­quent­ly, they strive to give every child an ade­quate edu­ca­tion. There might not be a causal rela­tion­ship here, but the cor­re­la­tion is impor­tant even if it isn’t causal. No one ful­ly escapes being judged on the basis of appear­ances. If we act and look like a thriv­ing, grow­ing, order­ly part of the world, peo­ple and busi­ness­es seek­ing a home will treat us as such. We may escape the tra­di­tion­al rep­u­ta­tion of the Deep South and con­tin­ue to be a place of expand­ing oppor­tu­ni­ty. If we act like back­ward, big­ot­ed yokels, that is how we will be known. If we keep mis­treat­ing vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple, doing our best to flout fed­er­al law for the sake of flout­ing fed­er­al law, and stag­ing petu­lant, futile Civ­il War rehash­es in fed­er­al court, the world will lose inter­est in Geor­gia. Anoth­er state in our region will get its act togeth­er. We will fall behind, and doors will close.

We need to choose between the igno­rance, dem­a­goguery, and per­se­cu­tion that char­ac­ter­ize our past and what could be a very bright future. We may not have much time to make the right deci­sion. The answer should be obvi­ous, but change is scary. Some peo­ple are hes­i­tat­ing. Some of our lead­ers are hes­i­tat­ing, and that is threat­en­ing our chance to keep mov­ing for­ward. If this suit push­es us in the right direc­tion, even if that push feels like a harsh shove, every­one involved in tak­ing on the GNETS is doing Geor­gia a favor in the long run.

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