June 24, 2008
Baltimore County School System Settles Suit With Homeless Families
By Danny Jacobs
Baltimore County Public Schools will provide monitoring reports on all of its homeless students for two years as part of a settlement last week with three homeless families who alleged their children were not given immediate enrollment, adequate transportation and free lunches at county schools as required by federal law.
The school system has also agreed to conduct training sessions about the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act and provide a brochure, "Homeless Children and Youth in Baltimore County," to school nurses, teachers and bus drivers, according to details of the consent decree entered Thursday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.
The school system also agreed to pay $145,000 in attorneys' fees to the Public Justice Center, which represented the three families. P. Tyson Bennett and Eric C. Brousaides of Reese & Carney LLP in Columbia served as outside counsel for BCPS in the lawsuit.
Lawyers for the families, BCPS and school system officials did not return calls seeking comment.
The school system has not been found guilty of violating federal law and is not admitting guilt by settling the case, according to the consent decree.
The families of four students filed suit in April 2006 alleging BCPS and Superintendent Joe A. Hairston "failed or refused ... to identify, inform, and provide educational stability and continuity to these homeless students," under McKinney-Vento. The 1987 law requires a school system to take all feasible steps to allow homeless students to continue their education at the school they last attended before becoming homeless, also known as a school of origin. Such students must be immediately enrolled with or without necessary documentation and provided transportation and school meals.
All four students had problems arranging through BCPS transportation to their respective schools, and one had to repeat the first grade because she missed too many days, according to the complaint. The families also were not informed of their rights under McKinney-Vento, the complaint stated.
Additionally, two sisters were not identified as homeless by BCPS even though they were living in a shelter, according to the complaint. The Public Justice Center said the school system reported 685 homeless students during the 2004-2005 school year even though Baltimore County said approximately 900 children were homeless between July 1, 2004 and June 30, 2005.
Originally published by Danny Jacobs.
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