As if their lives hadn’t been thrown into enough turmoil when their house was foreclosed on and their family became homeless, two Pennsylvania students learned last Monday that they were no longer welcome at the school they had attended their entire lives because the campground they were living in was located just outside of town.
The two students, one eighth-grader and one twelfth-grader whose names are withheld because they are minors, have lived in a camper with their parents in eastern Pennsylvania since losing their home to foreclosure in 2011. The campground where they were able to find refuge is located just outside the school district’s boundaries.
That shouldn’t be a problem under federal law, which allows homeless students to remain enrolled in the school they attend, even if extenuating circumstances forced them to live outside of the limits. Indeed, for more than two years, the two students were allowed to continue their education at the Easton Area School District, giving them stability in an otherwise-tumultuous situation.
However, according to the Education Law Center of Pennsylvania, an education nonprofit that filed a lawsuit on behalf of the students, they were kicked out of school without explanation last week. Easton Schools Solicitor John Freund wrote in an email to The Express-Times that they had “made a studied determination that this family, living outside the boundaries of the district, no longer qualified as homeless for the purpose of free public education in Easton.”
The matter went to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, which issued a preliminary ruling on Thursday to immediately re-enroll the students, pending the outcome of the suit.
Though Easton doesn’t believe the students are homeless enough to qualify under federal law, it’s important to note that most homeless people don’t sleep on the streets per se. Few would consider the 24-foot-by-7-foot camper where the four-person family resides to be a permanent housing situation, but that’s precisely what school district is arguing.
Because of the court’s ruling, the students will be able to continue attending classes at Easton — for now — but their enrollment status remains in limbo.
Unfortunately, their experience is not atypical. Overall, the number of homeless students in the United States hit a record high during the 2011–12 school year, with more than 1.1 million homeless students enrolled in preschool or K-12, a 10 percent increase from the previous year.
In an effort to address the systemic challenges facing these students, a trio of senators introduced a bill last month to help homeless and foster youth overcome barriers that prevent many from going on to college.