Pittsburgh, PA – March 25, 2010 – (RealEstateRama) — A lawsuit settled today in Pennsylvania by the Education Law Center-PA and the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (NLCHP) ensures the continued enrollment of homeless children in school and significantly revises state polices to better protect the rights of homeless students.
The economic crisis has forced many families out of their homes, but it should not force children out of school, said Education Law Center Attorney Nancy A. Hubley. Fortunately, the federal McKinney-Vento Act exists to protect the rights of these children to attend public school.
As part of the agreement, the Pennsylvania Department of Education issued a directive to school districts spelling out that children who are homeless, and who do not always sleep in the same district, can enroll in any school district with which the family has a “substantial connection,” such as where they regularly receive services, conduct their daily living activities, or stay overnight on a recurring basis.
The state’s revised guidance, in compliance with federal law, also now requires the school district to inform families in writing of the basis of a denial of school enrollment or school selection decision; apprise families of their right to remain in their school of choice pending resolution of a dispute; and explain the procedures for challenging a school district’s decision.
Homeless families’ overnight accommodations often come in whatever form the family can find for that night. The new state guidance emphasizes that schools need to meet families where they are to ensure their children’s education doesn’t suffer, said Eric Tars, children and youth attorney at NLCHP.
In October 2009, Carlynton School District officials sought to remove four homeless children from its schools, claiming the family did not actually live in the district. When the Pennsylvania Department of Education concurred with the district’s decision, the Education Law Center and NLCHP filed a complaint under the McKinney-Vento Act.
The children, who became homeless last April when their father lost his job and the family was evicted from its home, had been receiving services from the Interfaith Hospitality Network of Southwestern Pennsylvania, located in the Carlynton School District. The Network serves homeless children and families who stay overnight in different churches each week.
Nationally, fewer than 25 percent of American homeless students graduate high school, according to America’s Youngest Outcasts: State Report Card on Child Homelessness, a 2009 report from The National Center on Family Homelessness.
The McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act was enacted in 1987 to address the needs of these children. It mandates that all children who are homeless are legally entitled to immediate enrollment in a new school wherever they are living and that they can continue to attend that school for the duration of homelessness, or, if permanently housed, until the end of the academic year.
Stable schooling is critical in what is otherwise a tumultuous, stressful time for homeless children and their families. It also has long-term effects: education is essential to breaking the cycle of poverty, said Maria Foscarinis, NLCHP’s executive director.