September 10, 2004
SCHOOL ACCOMMODATIONS AND RESIDENCY
By: Soncia Coleman, Research Analyst
You asked what school accommodation rules would apply to a student that was residing temporarily with a relative due to a family situation.
Local and regional boards of education must provide school accommodations, including transportation, to all school-aged children who reside in their districts (C.G.S. §10-186(a)). Usually, the concern is that a student has moved or is claiming residency in a town in order to obtain school accommodations in that district. To address this concern, Connecticut law provides that, for a child to attend school in a district where she is residing with someone other than a parent or guardian, the residence must be permanent, provided without pay, and not for the sole purpose of obtaining education (C.G.S. §10-253(d)). Residency determinations can be very fact specific. The Connecticut State Department of Education (SDE) offers guidance to assist districts in making residency determinations. Once a determination is made, a parent may request hearing and also appeal the results of the hearing to the State Board of Education (C.G.S. §10-186(b)).
In situations where a student is residing with someone other than a parent or guardian as the result of some sort of family turmoil, the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act of 2001, may be applicable. This legislation requires districts to ensure continuity of educational services for students who become homeless. The act defines homelessness very broadly and offers protections for youth in homeless situations who are not in the physical custody of a parent.
CONNECTICUT SCHOOL ACCOMODATION LAWS
Connecticut law specifically addresses the education of children who reside in a different district than their parents. According to section 10-253(d) of the general statutes, students may attend school in a district even though their parents or guardians do not live there as long it is the intention of all parties that the residence in the district is permanent, provided without pay, and not for the sole purpose of obtaining school accommodations. Such determinations depend on the facts of each particular case.
According to the SDE School Accommodations Workshop Package, available on the SDE web site, a “permanent resident” is one who resides in a district and has a present intention to remain within the district. The materials include factors that districts may consider in making residency determinations, stating: “There are a number of factors enumerated in court cases that boards may consider relevant to a determination of residency. These and other factors may be used as evidence of permanency and residency or the lack thereof. These may include, among others:
a) Where the majority of the student's clothing and personal possessions are located;
b) Address listed on the student's driver's license;
c) Town of issue of library card;
d) Where the student attends church;
e) Place of club affiliation, e.g. cub scouts, boy scouts;
f) Residence of child's immediate family;
g) Where the student spends substantial time when school is not in session;
h) Age and emancipation status of the child.”
Districts must provide a written explanation of their decision to deny or discontinue school services and inform parents of their right to request a hearing with the board if they disagree with the decision. If a hearing is requested, it must be held within 10 days. If the local or regional board determines that the student is not entitled to school accommodations at the end of the hearing, the student may appeal the
decision to the State Board of Education within 20 days (C.G.S. §10-186(b)(2)). The burden is on the student to establish residency by a preponderance of the evidence (C.G.S. §10-186(b)(1)).
When a child is already enrolled in schools, he has the right to “stay put” during the hearing process and any appeals (C.G.S. §10-186(b)(2)). However, if the district determines the student is not entitled to educational services, they may assess a tuition charge for time spent in the district (C.G.S §10-186(b)(4)). Additionally, if the student is not already enrolled, the district is not required to enroll the student before a decision is made. Additional information on the hearing procedures is included in the SDE's 2003-2004 School Accommodations Guide for Parents and Guardians.
The McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act of 2001 requires all school districts to ensure access to public education for children and youth experiencing homelessness, and success in school once enrolled (42 U.S.C §§11431 et seq.) This includes providing a choice of schools, comparable services, policies that do not prevent homeless children from attending schools, and the integration of homeless children into the school community. State law specifically requires Connecticut's local boards of education to follow McKinney-Vento in providing educational services to children who are homeless (P.A. 03-6, June 30 Special Session).
The legislation defines “homelessness” broadly to encompass students in a range of situations. According to the act, the term “homeless children and youth” includes, among other things, children and youths who are sharing the housing of other persons due to the loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason. The legislation also provides protection for unaccompanied youths, defined as youths in homeless situations who are not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian. These students have the same rights as other homeless children. Materials posted on the SDE web site note that the primary cause for homelessness for unaccompanied youth are physical and sexual abuse by a parent or guardian, neglect, parental substance abuse, and family conflict. Districts are required to designate a liaison to facilitate the education of homeless students.
The legislation provides that, to the extent it is feasible, students may remain in their schools of origin (the school where the child was last enrolled) or enroll in any public school that students living in the same attendance area are eligible to attend. Districts of origin must continue to provide services for students who become homeless during the year and ensure that they continue to receive services if they become homeless in between school years.
Similar to the school accommodation procedures discussed above, if a student is sent to a school other than the school of origin or the school requested by the parent, the school district must provide a written explanation of its decision and notice of the right to appeal. However, unlike normal school accommodation situations, whenever a dispute arises regarding a homeless student, the district must enroll the student while the dispute is being resolved.
Louis Tallarita is the program manager for the McKinney-Vento Education for Homeless Children and Youths grant administered by SDE. He can be contacted by telephone at (860) 807-2058 or via electronic mail at Louis.Tallarita@po.state.ct.us. Additionally, each district is required to designate a liaison to deal with matters relating to the education of homeless students.