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School Stability for Youth in Foster Care

Youth in Foster Care Have the Right to Stay in their School of Origin

Youth in foster care in Massachusetts have a right to stay in their "school of origin" (i.e., the school they attended prior to being removed or moved) when they are removed from their homes and when they move foster placements! This right comes from two federal laws - Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 (Fostering Connections) and the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 (ESSA) - and has now been implemented through joint guidance from the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).

Federal Law

In December 2015, President Obama signed into law the ESSA. Under the Title I provisions of the ESSA:

  • All children in foster care have the right to remain in their school of origin when placed in foster care or moved to a new placement and to receive transportation to that school of origin.
  • If it is not in their best interests to remain in their school of origin, they must be enrolled immediately in the appropriate school in their new district, even if records normally required for enrollment are not available.
  • Children who are placed in STARR programs and other temporary placements are no longer be considered homeless under the McKinney-Vento statute. Instead, these children have school stability rights from Title I of the ESSA. For more information about the school stability rights of homeless children under the McKinney-Vento statute, click here.
  • The state and local school systems must collect and report data on the academic performance of children in foster care.

Fostering Connections already required the child welfare agency, DCF, to do its part to ensure school stability for children in foster care. With the enactment of the ESSA, the DESE, the local school districts, and DCF all have federal mandates that require them to work together to ensure school stability for children in foster care.

Massachusetts Guidance

In January 2018, DCF and DESE issued joint guidance to local school districts and DCF staff on implementation of the school stability provisions of the ESSA and Fostering Connections. The DESE/DCF joint guidance provides that:

  • DCF and local schools must work collaboratively to arrange transportation for children to their school of origin. Importantly, "absent other agreements between districts and DCF, the district of origin is responsible for providing transportation." Guidance at p.6.
  • The child and parents should be able to "participate meaningfully in the [best interest] decision making process." Guidance at p.4.
  • In determining whether it is in the child's best interests to stay in the school of origin or enroll in the new school, DCF and the school may not consider the cost of transportation." Guidance at p.4.
  • If the school district disagrees with DCF's best interest determination, a dispute resolution process is available at DESE.
  • The DCF Area Director is the designated Point of Contact (POC) required by ESSA to work with the local school districts to support foster children in school. Each school district also must designate a foster care POC to ensure school stability for foster children.

If a youth in foster care is not being afforded the right to stay in his/her school of origin, the attorney for the youth or for the youth's parent may raise it to the judge in the Juvenile Court (if DCF is not complying with the law) or may contact the DESE PQA Problem Resolution Services division (if the school district is not complying with the law).

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