Class act: A deal gives homeless children a seat in school

Written by Susan Mannella on .

Led by a parent, they move from house to house, from friend to relative, with no real place to call home. As if that weren't bad enough, it's hard to say where they should go to school.

Last year, the Education Law Center and National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty filed a federal lawsuit against the Carlynton School District for opposing the enrollment of four homeless children in its schools. A homeless family used a day shelter in the Carlynton district, but slept in eight churches at night -- seven outside the school district.

The school system claimed that because the students had rotating sleeping arrangements, it wasn't responsible for educating them. Yet, to its credit, Carlynton allowed the students to attend school while it sought clarification of the law.

This week, Pennsylvania's Education Law Center announced a settlement that said, in keeping with the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act, such children can attend school in a community where the family has a "substantial connection."

The family for whom the suit was filed has been aided by the Interfaith Hospitality Network of the South Hills. That means the students' connection to Carlynton has been real and substantial. The teachers and staff have never wavered in their support of the children.

In issuing the clarification, the state Department of Education said: "These students should be enrolled without delay, in the district where they are presently residing, or continue their education in the district of prior attendance."

The state language now has flexibility to accommodate students' needs. The only place it should be inflexible is in the commitment to educate Pennsylvania's homeless children.


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