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Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago

January/February 1997 issue of Poverty & Race

Legal Assistance Foundation
of Chicago
343 5. Dearborn St., #700
Chicago. IL 60604
312/347-8365
Contact: Rene Heybach

In June, 1992, after a PRRAC- funded study identified numerous violations of the federal McKinney Homeless Assistance Act's educational mandates, homeless school-age children and their parents residing in the City of Chicago brought a class action against the Illinois State Board of Education and the Chicago Board of Education for a broad array of practices and policies which, they asserted, denied homeless children access to the same free public education made available to others. The suit, known as Salazar v. Edwards, is premised upon provisions of the Illinois School Code, the federal McKinney Act, the Illinois Education for All Homeless Children Act, and state and federal constitutional provisions.

Among the many problems plaintiffs say prompted the suit was the alleged failure of the Chicago Public Schools to (1) allow homeless children to remain in their neighborhood schools when they lost their housing; (2) allow homeless children to enroll without production of records or proof of immunization; (3) allow homeless children to attend the schools and activities that other school children attend, including preschool and kindergartens; (4) provide transportation assistance to homeless children; (5) forbid discrimination in services to homeless children; and (6) notify homeless families of their educational rights and provide a system for homeless par-ents to appeal any decision the schools make that may be unfair to homeless children.

On November 21, 1996, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Michael B. Getty approved a settlement of the litigation in which the local defendants (the Chicago Reform Board of Trustees and the chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools, Paul Vallas) commit to assisting homeless families by (1) promulgating a clear written policy regarding the education of homeless children and youth and training school staff on the contents and procedure of the new policy; (2) providing regular notice to parents and students of the special rights applicable to families who lack housing; (3) providing homeless families the choice to keep their children in the school of origin" (i.e., the school the child attended when permanently housed or the school the child last attended) or to enroll in the school which non-homeless children living in the same attendance area attend; (4) providing a comprehensive system of transportation to enable homeless children to get to the "school of origin"; (5) coordinating with other state and local agencies to ensure that homeless children are located and enrolled in the appropriate school; (6) allowing immediate enrollment of homeless children regardless of lack of school or medical records or immunization; (7) providing tutoring services to all homeless children requesting such; and (8) providing a simple and swift process for homeless parents to raise any complaints they have regarding the treatment of their children.

In addition, the local defendants commit to a non-discrimination policy and, indeed, closed a segregated and inferior "shelter school" which had served to contain homeless children and divert them from regular elementary schools in the area.

The state-level defendants commit to promulgate a written policy as well which must be adhered to and disseminated by the Chicago Public Schools. In addition, the state commits to a greater role in monitoring enforcement of the McKinney Act educational provisions by the Chicago Public Schools. The agreement provides for the gathering of specific information regarding the numbers of homeless children, the services offered, efforts made to seek out and enroll homeless children, any complaints lodged, the extent of transportation services provided, an accounting of monies spent on the CPS "homeless program" and the problems encountered by homeless families in accessing education.

Notes:

The 71-page, Feb. 1992, PRRAC- funded study, "A Long Way From Home: Chicago 's Homeless Children & the Schools, "by Bernardine Dohrn, is available from L4F for $7. After Feb. 1, Rene Heybach can be reached at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (1325 S. Wabash, Chicago, IL 60605, 312/435-4548) for copies of the report.

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