Don’t let red tape deny homeless children their education
The ACLU of Hawaii has filed a lawsuit contending the state is failing to provide homeless keiki with equal access to education.
The prospect of federal intervention should prompt the state and the Department of Education to resolve quickly a claim that homeless children are not getting the educational services
they should be receiving.
In addition to complying with the law, there is a social obligation and benefit in providing an education that could break the circuit of poverty that feeds homelessness.
A lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii contends the state has violated the McKinney-Vento Act, which requires equal access to public education for children and youths who have no permanent housing. The suit maintains that the department was made aware of its shortcomings a year ago but has yet to correct the deficiencies, and seeks federal court supervision until it does.
A report from the U.S. Department of Education found the state's requirement that parents or families fill out a "geographical exception form" before children are enrolled in school "is a barrier to immediate enrollment" and contrary to federal policy. The report also faults the state for not adequately informing homeless children and families of their educational rights.
Further, the report said the state does not have an independent process for ensuring compliance with the law because the DOE's coordinator for the McKinney-Vento program and the person in charge of monitoring "are the same individual and an employee" of the department.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of three families, but the department's defaults likely affect hundreds of other children. The state receives federal funds to help children get to and from school, but the families say they have not gotten that help and that as a result their children have missed classes when they had no money for bus fares.
Homeless children face difficult educational challenges. They often do not have food except the free meals they get on campus, and hungry children have trouble learning. They have inadequate school supplies, if any, do not get sufficient health care and are stigmatized because they are poor. The law guarantees that they are at least enrolled in school and can get to their classrooms.
It would be unfair to characterize school officials as unsympathetic, because they, too, face challenges when students move from place to place and are in and out of school without notice. However, bureaucratic procedures should not be allowed to obstruct children's education when it is critical to improving their lot in life.
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