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School Stability for Youth in Foster Care

In December 2015, President Obama signed into law the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ESSA amends the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Two parts of the updated law are particularly relevant to children in foster care: Title I, which now provides school stability rights for children in foster care, and Title IX, the McKinney-Vento statute, which provides similar school stability protections to homeless students. For more information about the McKinney-Vento statute, click here. Some of the changes to McKinney-Vento went into effect in October 2016. The Title I changes related to foster care took effect December 10, 2016.

Key changes under 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 will no longer be considered homeless under the McKinney-Vento statute.
  • The state and local school systems must collect and report data on the academic performance of children in foster care.

The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 already required the child welfare agency, the Department of Children and Families (DCF), to do its part to ensure school stability for children in foster care. With the enactment of the ESSA, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (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.

Please note update in Massachusetts: On February 2, 2017, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) issued guidance stating that school districts should continue to transport children "awaiting foster care" (i.e., in STARR or emergency placements) as they had under McKinney Vento. This guidance also reiterates the school districts' responsibility under ESSA to continue enrollment of and to provide transportation to students in foster care so that they may attend their school of origin. You can find the guidance here.

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