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Residency policy unfair to homeless children

The Baltimore County public schools' new residency policy may prove to be an illegal barrier to the education of homeless students. In their rush to prove themselves hyper-sensitive to rumors of fraudulent enrollment, the county officials quoted in The Baltimore Sun's article "Proving they belong" (Aug. 25) failed to clarify that students who are homeless are entitled to immediate enrollment even if they lack documentation. However, recognizing the importance of keeping children in school, especially during times of personal crisis, the federal McKinney-Vento Act requires schools to focus on getting homeless children into school immediately, and then to work with the family to get any necessary paperwork done. Well-publicized, onerous residency proof requirements will ensnare students who are not properly identified as homeless; such students may be illegally turned away, while others may be too scared even to come forward to try to attend school. Of course, county officials know this, having just recently settled a class-action lawsuit that charged the county schools with violations of homeless children's education rights. Yet sadly, county school and public officials appear to have forgotten to ensure that their zeal in rooting out residency fraud does not harm homeless students. Sally Dworak-Fisher, Baltimore The writer is an attorney for the Public Justice Center Inc. who was the lead counsel in the lawsuit on behalf of homeless students.

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