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Foster Child Returns to School Thanks to PJC Foster Children Advocacy

The PJC’s Foster Children’s Education Project is working on multiple fronts to ensure that foster children can enroll in school, stay in school, and succeed in school.  For example, these children often face frequent school changes, as well as barriers to enrollment and re-enrollment.  The following case story, told by PJC attorney Laurie Norris, is illustrative of the long and tortuous path that many foster children walk in trying to find stable housing and education.  Those who are fortunate enough to have tenacious attorneys like Laurie may wiggle through the system, but many others are lost.  We are working to fashion systemic solutions to problems like these.
After 11 weeks of being shut out of school, Denise (not her real name), a 16-year-old 11th grade foster child, was finally readmitted to her Baltimore City Public School on January 19, 2006.  In January 2005, she was removed from her long-term relative foster care placement in Baltimore City.  She had to withdraw from her Baltimore City high school at the same time because she was sent to Montgomery County by the Department of Social Services (DSS).  For 10 months, she was housed in two different group homes in Montgomery County -- the first of which (a 60-day shelter) did not enroll its residents in the local public schools. Denise did attend a Montgomery County public high school for the last three months of 10th grade and the first 2 months of 11th grade.  Then, in early November 2005, she was sent back home to Baltimore City.
Immediately, Denise's foster mother tried to re-enroll Denise at her former Baltimore City High School -- a special "academy" focused on college-bound students to which she had secured admission in the 9th grade by participating in a city-wide selection process.  But school administrators refused to take her back.  No real reason was given - only that she had lost her spot and the school was full.  The only other option Denise was given was to enroll in her zoned neighborhood school - which happened to be one of the most dangerous and underachieving schools in the City.  This was not an acceptable solution to either Denise or her foster mother.
Denise did not receive any assistance in getting re-enrolled in school from her DSS case worker, who was out of the office for more than two months during which time no one was covering her case load. Because of this non-action, Denise missed an entire quarter of the school year.
The case was referred to the PJC by Denise’s Child In Need of Assistance (CINA) attorney. Attorney Norris spent two long weeks battling with school and school district officials to finally secure permission for Denise to return to her school.  She was assisted in her efforts by the fact that Craig Thompson, a partner at Venable, had agreed to step in and represent Denise should Laurie fail to secure an agreement by January 19.  When informed of this possibility on January 18, BCPSS school district administrators finally agreed to a meeting, which led to the resolution of the case within 24 hours.  Denise and her foster mother are ecstatic with the outcome, and Denise is determined to graduate next year and go on to college to become a social worker or a psychiatrist, so she can help children.

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