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RALEIGH, NC – Following a complaint filed by Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Right to Education Project (REP), the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (DPI) launched a formal investigation into the Wake County Public School System’s (WCPSS) treatment of students with disabilities. The complaint exposes a harsh reality: struggling students with emotional disabilities are being isolated instead of nurtured within the school system.

The complaint, filed on behalf of two African-American students with disabilities who attended East Garner Magnet Middle School (EGMMS), highlights systemic issues at EGMMS and within the district. Despite being bright and creative, the students were repeatedly suspended and removed from their classrooms when displaying dysregulated behaviors. Instead of receiving the necessary support to manage their disabilities and emotions effectively, they were frequently confined to a “behavior stabilization” room, isolated from educational opportunities and peer interaction.

“No parent should have to watch their child endure what my eyes have seen,” declared Ms. Green*, mother of one of the affected children. “There are no support groups, there’s no help. I hope no other child has to endure what my child has endured.”

This investigation follows a lawsuit filed by a WCPSS family whose 8-year-old daughter was repeatedly restrained and forced into a seclusion room. Through the settlement, the public learned Wake County secluded 240 students during the 2022-2023 school year, 44 percent of them being Black students. While a “behavior stabilization” room is different from formal seclusion, these stories highlight a disturbing pattern: perpetuating a culture of isolation instead of offering the necessary support and resources for students to heal and thrive.

“While the investigation by DPI in response to our complaint focuses on systemic practices at EGMMS, the experiences of the students named are not anomalies,” noted Hetali Lodaya, lead attorney for the complaint. “Community members tell us that students across the district—particularly students of color with disabilities—routinely face similar patterns of isolation and ostracization. They are seen as a “problem” to be removed from the classroom, rather than as young people who deserve an education just like their peers.” 

“Our public schools face enormous challenges to fund support and resources for children with disabilities,” said Susan Book, a WCPSS parent and community advocate. “However, it costs zero dollars to treat all children with dignity and basic human decency.”

The complaint requests several remedies to address both individual and systemic violations. Among the requested remedies are compensatory services for named and similarly situated students, independent evaluations, and extensive training and support for school-based staff working with students with disabilities.

Access the full complaint here.

“When educators are trained to help students identify and regulate their emotions, develop healthy communication skills, and build resilience, all students benefit—not just those with disabilities,” emphasized Bekah Brown, Policy and Curriculum Specialist with Education Justice Alliance. “When we commit to investing in more than just the bare essentials, we not only fulfill our educational duty, but we also lay the foundation for a more just and compassionate society.”

This complaint is the fifth systemic complaint that REP has filed against WCPSS regarding its treatment of students with disabilities.

Lodaya shares: “When I asked one of the students named in this complaint what he wanted people to know about what happened to him, I was moved by his response: ‘Don’t let nobody get you down.’ Just as he continues to strive for more, we at REP will continue to fight alongside our clients and our communities for the creation of inclusive and equitable educational opportunities for all.”

*Name changed to protect client confidentiality