DOE failing homeless kids, suit says
An ACLU lawsuit contends the state Department of Education has violated federal law by not providing adequate education for homeless children in Hawaii.
The lawsuit, filed yesterday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii, seeks immediate compliance with the law and asks that the Department of Education be placed under court supervision until federal standards for educating homeless children are met.
Attorney General Mark Bennett said he would be meeting with Department of Education officials in the coming days to learn more about the situation and discuss the allegations in detail.
"I know that we, as a state, take the problem of homelessness very seriously," he said. "The fact that children are homeless is not a reason for them not to be educated and we, as a state, have a clear responsibility to all our children to educate them."
Department of Education spokesman Greg Knudsen said the agency also was reviewing the lawsuit. He referred questions to Bennett's office.
The ACLU's lawsuit was filed on behalf of three families, but seeks class-action status, noting that there are an estimated 900 homeless children in the state who might be affected.
Plaintiffs were identified as Alice Greenwood, Olive Kaleuati, Venise Lewis and their children.
Greenwood said her adopted 6-year-old son, Daniel, missed 33 days of school last year because of inadequate transportation, which is required by law.
"Every child deserves an education," Greenwood said in a statement released by the ACLU. "He shouldn't be punished just because he is homeless. It's not his fault."
The ACLU suit contends the state has violated provisions of the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 1987, which provides states with federal grants for homeless programs.
According to the lawsuit, the state receives about $200,000 a year in McKinney-Vento Act funds, but has failed to comply with requirements for tracking and educating homeless children.
Among other provisions, the act requires public schools to provide adequate transportation for homeless children, allow them to enroll in the school that is in their best interest geographically and comply with wishes of parents, when possible, as to the choice of school.
The lawsuit contends that the Department of Education has known of the alleged shortcomings since April 2006, when the findings were released in a report by the U.S. Department of Education.
ACLU attorney Lois Perrin called the state's alleged lack of action "indefensible."
"It is absolutely shocking," she added, "that the state has failed to assist these children despite having been on formal notice of its noncompliance since 2006."