The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) makes several changes to district responsibilities, including the addition of new requirements for students in foster care. With the Dec. 10 deadline for implementation quickly approaching, school districts should be having important conversations to ensure appropriate systems are in place to meet the new requirements.
As stated in the US Department of Education’s (DOE) June 23 Dear Colleague Letter (DCL), the purpose of these changes is to promote educational stability for children in foster care. Along with the DCL, the DOE released Non-regulatory Guidance that includes a purpose statement, a frequently asked questions document and examples of current practices that DOE has elected to “spotlight from the field.”
Under the new provisions, state education agencies like the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) must ensure that its local education agencies implement the educational stability requirements for children in foster care, including requiring that:
- A student in foster care remains in his/her school of origin unless it is determined that remaining in the school of origin is not in the best interest of the student;
- If it’s not in the student’s best interest to stay in the school of origin, the student is immediately enrolled in a new school even if the student is unable to produce records normally required for enrollment; and
- The new (enrolling) school immediately contacts the school of origin to obtain relevant academic and other records.
School districts are required to collaborate with state or local child welfare agencies to designate a point of contact (POC). Under the Act, this designation is only required if the corresponding child welfare agency notifies the district, in writing, that the agency has designated an employee to serve as a POC for the district. However, the non-regulatory guidance encourages districts to designate their POC in an “expedited manner, even if the child welfare agency has not yet notified them in writing of their corresponding POC.”
Districts must also, not later than Dec. 10, 2016, develop and implement clear written procedures governing how transportation will be provided, arranged, and funded to maintain children in foster care in their district of origin when remaining in their district of origin is found to be in their best interests. The new provisions also remove students “awaiting foster care placement” from the definition of “homeless children and youth” under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.
The Act requires ODE to designate a state POC for child welfare agencies to oversee the implementation of the state responsibilities for children in foster care. ODE has yet to name an official POC. Districts are encouraged to keep an eye out for guidance from ODE. In the meantime, you should begin having conversations in your districts about the requirements and your local procedures for carrying out the requirements. OSBA will keep you updated on any upcoming developments.