Washington, DC-- Homeless children and youth are often denied their right to attend public schools, according to a report released today by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (NLCHP). Researchers estimate on any given night, between 600,000 and 1,000,000 children are homeless in America. Regular school attendance is often one of the few fixed and reliable aspects of their lives.
"All children need to be in school, and no child should be deprived of the right to attend the same school as others merely because he or she is homeless," said Maria Foscarinis, Executive Director of the NLCHP. The NLCHP report, entitled Separate and Unequal: Barriers to the Education of Homeless Children, documents a continuing pattern of violations of federal law guaranteeing homeless children's right of equal access to public schools. The NLCHP report is based on a survey of 80 homeless service providers in 33 states.
According to the report, homeless children face the following barriers to access:
Nearly 79% of respondents reported that transportation is a barrier for homeless children who remain in the school they attended before becoming homeless.
38% of respondents reported that residency requirements are a barrier for children who seek to remain in their school of origin.
For homeless students seeking to transfer to a new school, difficulties in obtaining birth certificates were the most commonly reported barrier to enrollment (50% of respondents). Immunization requirements were the second most common barrier for these students (41% of respondents).
60% of respondents estimated that homeless preschoolers are not enrolled in early childhood development programs.
These barriers have led to a disturbing new trend: the creation of separate schools for homeless children.
Separate and Unequal provides the first-ever examination of this new problem. In an attempt to provide some educational services to children to homeless children who are shut out from public schools, educators or service providers have established classrooms in shelters and non-school sites.
According to the NLCHP such schools are legally troubling for many reasons.
· First, their very existence is generally a result of underlying violations of federal law guaranteeing equal access to public education. In the majority of cases, separate schools were established because homeless students in the district were denied access to regular public schools.
· Second, the segregation and inadequate education of homeless children in itself violates state, federal, and international law. The report states that separate schools are also bad educational policy because their curricula and resources are generally vastly inferior to those available in regular public schools. In particular, many separate schools:
· do not follow the same curriculum as regular public schools;
· are not staffed by certified teachers;
· group children of many different ages and grade levels together in a single classroom;
· fail to provide the same special programs and services (such as special education) and extracurricular activities available in regular public schools;
· are located in sites such as shelters or churches that were not designed to be schools and in some cases violate health and safety codes. "Requiring or encouraging homeless children to attend separate schools isolates them from their nonhomeless peers and deprives them of the opportunity for normal intellectual and social growth," according to NLCHP staff attorney Sarah McCarthy. Separate and Unequal provides an overview of the most important provisions of federal, constitutional, and international law that protect homeless children's right of equal access to public education. The report provides examples of effective and innovative programs that are complying with federal law. Some of the most successful programs have resulted from the conversion of separate schools into programs that integrate homeless children and youth into regular public schools. The NLCHP recommen