Thursday, December 22, 2016

Districts face transportation obligations for foster care students

The federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires school districts receiving Title I funds to develop and implement written procedures for transportation of foster children at their school of origin, provided that it is in each student’s best interests.

The federal law says such transportation should be provided, arranged, and funded for the duration of the student’s time in foster care. Illinois school districts are not free to develop these procedures independently for the 17,000 children in foster care in the state. Instead, ESSA requires that the procedures be crafted in collaboration with the state or local child welfare agency.

Note that ESSA, in similar fashion as its predecessor, NCLB, is an amendatory act under the umbrella of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA). Additionally, ESSA amends related federal statutes, such as the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, Protection of Pupil Rights Act, and the Boy Scouts of America Act, among others.

As a result of all these parameters and restrictions, IASB and Illinois districts had to await guidance from the Illinois State Board of Education and the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) regarding the necessary options to remain in compliance with ESEA, ESSA, and Title I funding rules on foster care transportation.

On Dec. 12, ISBE issued Guidelines for Determination of Best Interests and Transportation and Procedures for Dispute Resolution (Bulletin 01-16). The correspondence aims to assist school districts’ compliance with ESSA’s requirements relating to foster care students’ educational stability, including the obligation to develop transportation procedures.

“IASB has received numerous questions from districts with concerns regarding ISBE’s bulletin,” said Maryam Brotine, IASB assistant general counsel. “We are in communication with ISBE regarding our concerns with the proposed guidelines and hope to have clarification soon.”

PRESS Issue 93, released in early November, included an update to policy 4:110, Transportation, addressing district compliance with federal foster care student transportation obligations by adding a sentence to assure districts will meet transportation needs of foster care students in accordance with ESEA. The Association is also considering how best to assist members in developing ESEA-compliant foster care transportation procedures, and whether further PRESS material on this topic will be necessary.

“We [IASB] will issue updates on this topic as more information becomes available. In the meantime, boards are encouraged to review Issue 93 updates to policy 4:110 and consult with their board attorney to determine if the district needs to do anything in response to ISBE’s guidance,” Brotine said.

Additional information on this topic is available on the IASB School Law webpage. Further questions about the issue should be directed to Maryam Brotine, at 630/629-3776, ext. 1219 or by email at mbrotine@iasb.com