Federal Class Action Suit Seeks Access to Schooling for Homeless Children
Advocacy Group Sues NY State, Suffolk County and Local School Districts
Press Type: Press Release Associated Program: Children and Youth
The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (NLCHP) and the law firm Goodwin Procter LLP announced today the filing of a class action lawsuit on behalf of homeless children and their parents living in Suffolk County against various New York State and Suffolk County governmental authorities for denying homeless children access to public education in violation of federal and state laws and regulations. The lawsuit, filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, alleges that state and county agencies responsible for educating and providing social services to homeless children in Suffolk County have, by their neglect or in some instances malfeasance, added to the tragedy of homeless children by denying them appropriate access to a basic public school education.
Despite their legal obligations, the state, county and local governments have engaged in a persistent and repeated pattern of erecting bureaucratic barriers to the education of homeless children, said Jeffrey Simes, partner at Goodwin Procter. As a result, they have denied homeless children a free and appropriate public education. This lawsuit seeks to remove those obstacles so that these children can enjoy the benefits of a public school education, which is their right under federal and state law.
Simes pointed out that New York State receives federal funds under the McKinney-Vento Act that mandates that the state provide for the education of homeless children and youth within the state. In addition, he noted, the state is required to ensure that local agencies in the state comply with the Act.
The denial of basic educational opportunities to homeless children in Suffolk County not only violates the law, it also threatens to deprive these children of a chance for a better future, said Maria Foscarinis, founder and executive director of NLCHP. It is time to hold our state and local governments accountable for this injustice.
Among the practices cited in the lawsuit are:
· Failing to implement an appropriate or adequate regional placement plan as defined by New York State Education Law that provides a comprehensive approach to educational placements for homeless children · Failing to adequately monitor school districts compliance with laws relating to the educational rights of homeless children · Failing to provide homeless children with suitable clothing shoes, books, food, transportation and other necessities to enable them to attend school · Requiring proof of a permanent address as a prerequisite for school enrollment, a requirement that results in children being turned away at the schoolhouse door · Requiring a host or records and documentation that could not reasonably be demanded of homeless children and their families, including proof of residency. · Requiring that the entire family, including school age children, repeatedly appear at screening centers to have their eligibility determined, thus causing children to miss school · Failing to set up bus transportation for school age children of families placed in emergency housing · Failing to provide an adequate process for selecting a school that is in the best interest of homeless children · Failing to provide an opportunity for the parent of a homeless child to state the best interest of the child in school selection · Denying homeless children the opportunity to remain in their schools of origin and forcing them to transfer to the school which serves the attendance area in which they stay while homeless
Homeless children by definition endure an uncertain home life, said Simes. In many instances, the school environment can be the only stable one in the lives of these children. This is why the federal and state laws were written to give homeless children the right to stay in their school of origin and receive transportation to that school. State and local officials are essentially further victimizing homeless children and compounding their plight by denying them their educational rights under these federal and state laws. The national law firm Goodwin Procter LLP is providing pro bono services to the plaintiffs.
The defendants named in the lawsuit are:
NEW YORK STATE EDUCATION DEPARTMENT, RICHARD P. MILLS (as Commissioner of Education of the State of New York);
SHEILA EVANS-TRANUMN (as Associate Commissioner of Education of the State of New York); PATRICIA MCGUIRK (as Program Manager for the Homeless of the New York State Education Department);
NEW YORK STATE OFFICE OF TEMPORARY AND DISABILITY ASSISTANCE, ROBERT DOAR (as Acting Commissioner of the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance),
SUFFOLK COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES, JANET DEMARZO (As Commissioner Of The Suffolk County Department Of Social Services), DAN HICKEY (As Associate Commissioner Of The Suffolk County Department Of Social Services),
BAY SHORE UNION FREE SCHOOL DISTRICT, LONGWOOD CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT, HAMPTON BAYS SCHOOL DISTRICT, SOUTH COUNTRY SCHOOL DISTRICT, BRENTWOOD SCHOOL DISTRICT, NORTH BABYLON SCHOOL DISTRICT, AMITYVILLE SCHOOL DISTRICT, RIVERHEAD SCHOOL DISTRICT; MIDDLE COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT; COPIAGUE UNION FREE SCHOOL DISTRICT; SOUTH HUNTINGTON SCHOOL DISTRICT; MEDFORD SCHOOL DISTRICT; AND CENTRAL ISLIP SCHOOL DISTRICT
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