Pittsburgh’s Carlynton School District Denies Homeless Children Enrollment

Posted: October 7, 2009 in Children, Civil Rights, Government, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Morality, Poverty

It should be no secret to anyone that the face of homelessness in the U.S. has changed dramatically.

Gone are the days when the homeless were primarily single adult men.

Today’s homeless are comprised of men and women of all ages, ethnicities, religious and political affiliations. Moreover, homelessness is being experienced by those who come from "white collar" backgrounds.

Sadly, homelessness is also afflicting out nation’s children.  

Over one-third of the nation’s homeless population are children – are large majority of them are school-aged children who require access to the educational system.

According to an article in yesterday’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Education Law Center and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty plan to file suit against the Carlynton School District and Pennsylvania’s Department of Education.

At stake: the education of four homeless children.

The reason for the suit is that the Carlynton School District has sought to deny the four children enrollment within any of its district schools by asserting that the children "… aren’t sleeping within the district."

In fact, according to the article,

"The state has told the district it’s ‘not responsible for the education of these children.’"

Part of the problem is the manner in which "overnight accommodations" are being provided to the children’s family by the Interfaith Hospitality Network of the South Hills (IHNSH).

As it turns out, sleeping accommodations are rotated among eight area churches which are a part of the IHNSH. Only one of those churches is actually located within the Carlynton School District’s boundaries.

Subsequently, depending on which church the family happens to be sleeping at on any given night will determine whether or not the family is "living" within the district.

The last paragraph of the article put it this way:

"If family members are turned away by other school districts in which they sometimes sleep, ‘they wouldn’t have any school district, and that can’t be right,’ law center attorney Nancy Hubley said."

I can certainly understand that school districts are set up with boundaries. I can also understand the requirement that a child "live" inside those boundaries in order to attend school within that district. After all, it wouldn’t do to have every last child in a city all attending only one school in one school district.

All the same, I can also understand the position which the Education Law Center and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty have taken.

Homeless children – as a consequence of homelessness – do not have a "fixed address." However, that should not preclude them from receiving an education.

I’m sure that the state of Pennsylvania and the Carlynton School District feel they are basing their decisions on the "rule of law." They may even feel that their "hands are tied" and that they are required to deny those children enrollment. Nevertheless, perhaps they should take one or two steps back and look at the bigger picture.

By denying homeless children enrollment in any school district because of their "residential status" is penalizing them from something which is beyond their ability to control. And – in the long run – may deprive them of the opportunity to break the cycle of poverty.

This may well be one of those instances when it is, not only okay but accommodative, to bend the rules.

You can be sure that I am going to continue tracking this story, because its final outcome may very well affect the futures of not only the four children mentioned in the article, but of homeless children all across our nation.

  1. Diane Nilan says:

    This situation in PA seems to mirror arrangements many communities across the country have when it comes to temporarily housing homeless families. The rotating site, where the family stays at night, can be confusing to school districts. Some places have it figured out, and this district should get educated on their responsibilities.

    Their absurd position, as it has been reported, is contrary to federal law. Why the district decided to take this position is a puzzler.

    My observation–it would be cheaper–and better–to find housing in the district for families in homeless situations. Why can’t we do the right thing?

  2. anamerican says:

    I certainly hope this case prompts schools nationwide to make new rules that accommodate children who find themselves homeless. It seems as if this particular school system has forgotten that public education should always have the best needs of the children at the core of their mission. Children who are homeless are a group that truly need the stability of a school that offers them continuity of education without causing even greater stress than they experience with being homeless.

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