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School District Violates McKinney-Vento Act by Not Re-Enrolling Student

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May 21, 2010

By: Darcy L. Kriha

In L.R. v. Steelton-Highspire School District, a federal court in Pennsylvania held that the school district violated the McKinney-Vento Act when it refused to re-enroll a student with disabilities when he presented for enrollment as a homeless student for the 2009-2010 school year.  L.R., who lived with his grandmother, became homeless when their home was destroyed by a fire in January 2009.  The District treated L.R. as a homeless student for the remainder of the school year but elected not to re-enroll him for the 2009-2010 school year because it believed he was no longer homeless because he continued to reside with his relatives outside the District.

The Court considered and rejected the District’s analysis of L.R.’s homeless status.  The Court held that the Act does not provide for a maximum duration of homelessness.  The student continued to be homeless under the Act because the student lacked a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence; was sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, not by his own volition; and those factors had not changed in the next school year.

The Court also found that the District violated the Act by not enrolling L.R. during the pendency of the enrollment dispute.  The Court was particularly concerned that a student with a disability, whose needs were met by the District over a period of years, went without services for more than seven months because the District disputed his status.  The Court held that the Act required the District to continue the student’s education in his school of origin, unless the parent or guardian objects, and regardless of whether the District disputed his homeless status.  The Court noted that the student’s guardian clearly indicated her intent to return to the District and the intent of the Act was not to have a student suffer while a school district determines whether the student should be enrolled in their school.

This decision confirms that a student’s homeless status does not end at the close of a school year and that school districts, in the best interest of the student, must keep the student enrolled in the district until disputes regarding the student’s actual status are resolved.

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