Pennsylvania Schools Urged to Educate Homeless by Legal Advocates

Article excerpt

Struggling to find work and a place of their own, some families bear the additional burden of persuading a school district to educate their children, an attorney for a nonprofit advocacy group said Monday.

Nancy Hubley of the Education Law Center's Pittsburgh office said a phone call to the school district's lawyer often resolves the problem. Sometimes, school officials don't understand modern homelessness, she said.

"The schools think that if families aren't living under a bridge, that they're not homeless."

Hubley is representing a local family challenging the state Department of Education and the Carlynton School District's interpretation of a federal law that governs education for homeless children. She said her office has fielded more than 300 calls in the past year from homeless families fighting to keep their kids in the district of their choice.

"This isn't only one school district," Hubley said.

According to state records, 11,783 students in Pennsylvania were homeless in the 2007-08 school year, the latest figures available. Of those students, 1,825 were in the region that covers Allegheny, Beaver, Bedford, Fayette, Fulton, Greene, Somerset, Washington and Westmoreland counties.

Hubley said the family she represents, whom she declined to identify, lived in the Woodland Hills School District before the father lost his job. The family lost its house in April.

The Interfaith Hospitality Network of South Hills provides a day shelter in Crafton where the family keeps its belongings. Eight churches take turns weekly providing the family with sleeping space.

The four children finished the 2008-09 school year in Woodland Hills by spending almost two hours daily on buses. Their mother decided to enroll them in Carlynton School District this year to eliminate the long trips.

Susan Donnan, the network's executive director, said Carlynton school officials initially refused to accept the children.

"They said they do not enroll children from (the shelter's) address," she said. "We contacted the Education Law Center immediately."

While the family sleeps in a different location each week, it has been using the Crafton shelter as its home address since April, Donnan said. …