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"Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago"

May/June 1995 issue of Poverty & Race

One of PRRAC's earliest grants was to the Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago to enable one of its researchers, Bernardine Dohm, to document the city's failure to provide homeless children with an adequate education, as required under the McKinney Act. The report, "A Long Way From Home: Chicago's Homeless Children and the Schools" (71 pp., Feb. 1992), is available from LAF. That report was then used in support of litigation.

Homeless children in Illinois have recently won the right to enforce access to Illinois schools under Illinois law, including the right to transportation, prompt enrollment and the right to remain in their "school of origin." After a lower court's 1993 dismissal of their class action lawsuit (Salazar v. Edwards) against the State of Illinois and the Chicago Board of Education under the federal McKinney Homeless Assistance Act, homeless children, parents and advocates pushed for passage of the new Illinois "Education of Homeless Children Act," H.B. 3244, which extends to Illinois children even greater protections than those provided by federal law.

Under the new Act, effective January 1, 1995, all Illinois schools are obligated, among other things, to (1) immediately enroll a homeless child, whether or not the child has academic or medical records or proof of residency; (2) take responsibility for obtaining any documents necessary for the child's continued attendance; (3) give a homeless child a choice of schools to attend: the school attended when he or she lost housing, the school last attended or the school nearest where the child actually lives; (4) provide transportation to a homeless child when
necessary, (5) create an "ombudsperson" in the school region to resolve any placement disputes; and (6) ensure that a family's choice of placement will be respected pending the resolution of a dispute. In addition, the Act expressly creates a civil action (including attorneys fees and costs) for enforcement of these rights.

Despite the new Act, the plaintiff' homeless children and parents in Salazar have appealed the lower court's. dismissal. That dismissal was based on the holding of the district court in Lampkin v. District of Columbia, Civ. No. 92-0910, 1992 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8049 (D.D.C. June 9,1992) determining that the educational provisions of the McKinney Act were not judicially enforceable. But the lower court's decision in Lampkin has now been reversed by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, Lampkin v. District of Columbia, 27 F.3d 605 (D.C. Cir. 1994), and the U.S. Supreme Court has denied certiorari. In addition, Congress recently passed legislation protecting the judicial enforceability of federal-state funding statutes. On appeal in Salazar, plaintiffs are urging the Illinois appellate court to adopt the D.C. Circuit's reasoning in Lampkin. Oral argument on the appeal is expected shortly.

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