Kids Legal

Protecting the Rights and Improving the Lives of Maine's Children

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Are You Homeless?

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Maine children have the right to attend public school even though they don't have a permanent or regular place to live.

When is a student considered homeless?

A youth is homeless if she does not have an adequate, regular place to spend the night. "Homeless" includes living in a public or private shelter, or other kinds of transitional, temporary housing. It also includes sharing housing with other persons "due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason." A youth living in a car, a park, an abandoned building, or any other type of substandard housing is "homeless."

If I am homeless, or if my child is homeless, is my child still allowed to attend school?

Yes. Your child still has the right to a public education.

 

How do I decide which school to send my child to?

Your child has the right to stay in his "school of origin" (where he attended before becoming homeless), or any public school that students living in the same attendance area are eligible to attend. The decision should be based on the child's "best interest."

Often staying in the student's school of origin is in the child's best interest, to provide consistency and stability. But there may be a compelling reason for the child to attend a new school, such as safety.

Once I have decided where to send my child, how long does it take to get him into school?

No. Your child should be admitted immediately. This is the rule, even if the child does not have required documents, such as medical records or proof of residency. The school can gather these documents later.

What school services is my child entitled to get?

The school must offer all services for which the child is eligible, on the same basis as other students.

For example, if the school you have chosen offers programs in the following areas, your child must be offered these programs:

Education programs for the disadvantaged
Programs for students with disabilities
Programs for students with limited English
Vocational Education
Programs for gifted and talented
School meals (without proof of income or other standard paperwork, if these are barriers to access)
Before and after school care programs

Will my child be transported to school?

Yes. The law now requires that schools provide this service, if the parent or guardian requests it. If a youth is not in his parents' custody, the school or state liaison can request this service.

What about students who do not live with a parent or guardian? Do they have any rights?

Yes. The law categorizes these students as “unaccompanied youth.” Each school district must have a “liaison.” The liaison is charged with helping homeless youth enroll and succeed in school. The liaison should help an “unaccompanied youth:”

Decide where to enroll in school, taking into account the student's wishes, and notify the youth about his appeal rights if he disagrees with an enrollment decision.

Can my decision where to send my child be disputed?

Yes. If the superintendent of the school system which you have chosen believes that your decision is not in the best interest of your child, he or she may try to get your decision changed.

How can a Superintendent get my decision changed?

A superintendent has two options. First, he can request an informal decision from the Coordinator of Education for Homeless Children and Youth. The Coordinator must try to get you and the superintendent to agree within 20 days.

Second, if the Coordinator cannot get an agreement, or if the Superintendent decides not to go to the Coordinator in the first place, a superintendent may appeal to the Commissioner of Education.

What happens if the Superintendent appeals to the Commissioner?

If the superintendent appeals, he or she must file a form required by the Commissioner of Education. The superintendent must say which school he believes would serve your child best if he believes that another school would be better. You (or your child's social worker or your child, depending on the situation) must receive notice of the appeal.

The Commissioner may ask you to state your beliefs in writing and/or may hold a hearing to hear what you have to say on the matter. If a hearing is held, you must be told about the hearing and be allowed to attend and present your point of view.

The Commissioner will then decide which school your child will attend. In making his decision, the Commissioner must consider:

Your child's social, educational and physical needs;
Whether there are any other options for your child; and
Other information from school authorities and out-of-school agencies.

What happens if I am not satisfied with the Commissioner's decision?

You may appeal the decision to the Superior Court within 30 days of the decision. If you decide to appeal, get legal advice immediately. The Superintendent or any other party involved in the dispute may also appeal. If you receive notice of an appeal by another party, get legal advice immediately.

What happens to my child while all these Appeals are going on?

Your child will remain in the school you have chosen until the Coordinator or the Commissioner has made a final decision.

 

Link to Maine State Department of Education

National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty

Updated June 2004

Legal Tools to End Youth Homelessness
This booklet is written by The National law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. It is primarily an overview of Federal laws, that is, laws that apply in every state, and phone numbers to national switchboards and hotlines.

If you have problems enrolling in school, contact us.

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