For children living in shelters, on the beach, or without stable housing, access to education is an essential necessity to overcome poverty. Homeless children face a much greater difficulty accessing a meaningful education than other children because they have difficulty producing records — such as proof of residence — normally required for enrollment. Further, homeless children frequently move and have difficulty staying in one school. Stability of school placement is essential to meaningfuly learning as studies show that changing schools causes 4-6 months delay in education. School can be a stable force in a life filled with uncertainties.
The State of Hawaii receives federal funds, under the McKinney-Vento Act, to remove these barriers and provide school placement stability for homeless children. In return for these funds, Hawaii must (1) keep homeless children in their home school — the school they were attending when they became homeless; (2) provide transportation to that home school, even if the children leave the geographic area of the home school in search of shelter; and (3) immediately enroll homeless children even if they lack documents normally required for enrollment.
Despite receiving federal monies, Hawaii schools are turning homeless children away at the school house door, forcing them to change school multiple times in a single year, and denying them basic transportation services necessary to attend. The net effect is that many homeless children in Hawaii are getting substandard education or no education at all.
Lawyers for Equal Justice represented three homeless families that had been denied access to education and, on behalf of all homeless families statewide. LEJ filed a class action lawsuit against the State of Hawaii in U.S. District Court, seeking statewide injunctive relief to remove policies that violate federal law and ensure that homeless children have full, meaningful access to a public education. A final settlement agreement resolved the case, with the state agreeing to provide transportation and remove barriers to enrollment and attendence of homeless children.