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Fighting “Disgraceful” NY Education Dept. Policy on Homeless Children

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Tuesday, May 20, 2014   

SETAUKET, N.Y. - It's called the McKinney-Vento Act, a federal law that says homeless students are entitled to enroll in school while any disputes about their homeless status proceed. Those are called "310 appeals" in New York.

Despite a couple of court rulings that said it should not, the New York State Education Department persists in allowing schools to dis-enroll students before their final appeal is ruled on, which sometimes takes over a year. This affects a student's stability, which depends in part on access to school.

Deborah Berger is an attorney who began trying to change this nearly a decade ago.

"I think that it's disgraceful," Berger says. "While you're deciding whether or not the child meets the requirements of McKinney-Vento, the child should not be dis-enrolled."

When invited to comment, a spokeswoman for the Education Department said, "Department practice is to not comment on matters involving litigation and commissioners' decisions in 310 appeals."

Many families simply accept having to enroll their child in a new school and, not wanting to uproot them twice, they will withdraw their appeal, so no final decision is ever issued. As a result, it is hard to know how many children have been affected by this practice.

Lisa Coleman, education and domestic violence attorney, National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, says she has seen no other states that have put up as much resistance as New York when it comes to the appeals process.

"They're still denying homeless children and families the opportunity to both appeal the decision of the Education Department and also attend school at the same time," Coleman says. "That is in direct contravention of the McKinney-Vento Act."

Coleman's group has twice in recent years represented Long Island families and children and won rulings that she says continue to be evaded by the state.

"We want to make sure that kids get access to schools now," she stresses. "New York State could easily remedy that issue just by simply changing their policy."

She says the Center will continue to look for homeless families to represent, in an effort to finally get a ruling that will be obeyed. In the 2012-2013 school year, more than 29,000 children were identified as homeless in New York State, according to The New York State Technical and Education Assistance Center.






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