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New country, new school

Unaccompanied immigrant children start school with help from the Public Justice Center

November 20, 2012: Far from home and adjusting to life in a new country, 12-year-old Yesenia and 16-year-old Jonathan tried to start school here in Maryland but were turn away. With the help of the Public Justice Center’s Education Stability Project, they’re now attending classes. Here are their stories:
Travelling on her own from Mexico, Yesenia arrived in Baltimore County a few months ago. At the beginning of the school year, her grandmother attempted to enroll her in a local school. But she was told that Yesenia’s parents had to be there. After her grandmother contacted the PJC, we worked with school staff to explain Yesenia’s rights under the federal McKinney-Vento Act, which allows unaccompanied homeless youth to enroll themselves. Yesenia started school in November. In gratitude, her grandmother sent this note to PJC attorney Monisha Cherayil:
Attorney Monisha,
I hope this finds you well.  I write to thank you for the excellent work you did for my granddaughter, Yesenia.  You have achieved what I thought was impossible - that Yesenia enter school. From the first day of classes, they gave her free meals, and I also didn't have to pay anything for her physical education uniform or for transportation. This would not have been possible without your help. Thanks so much for what you did for Yesenia. Thanks to you and to the PJC.  God bless you.
Last winter, Jonathan’s parents sent him from El Salvador to stay with his sister in Baltimore County. He tried to enroll at a local school last June but was turned away in part because he was unaccompanied by his parents. After his family found the PJC, we contacted the school district homeless education liaison to address all issues preventing his immediate enrollment, explaining among other things that he had a right under the McKinney-Vento Act to enroll without a parent or guardian. Jonathan was able to start school soon afterward.
Both of these challenges were resolved smoothly because of earlier PJC efforts to bring the Baltimore County Public Schools into compliance with the laws governing homeless students’ rights. Following the 2008 settlement of a PJC lawsuit against BCPS, the school district improved policies, procedures, and services for homeless students and achieved compliance with the McKinney-Vento Act in 2010 (See related story here). Because these systems are in place, BCPS is able to respond quickly and effectively when situations like Yesenia’s and Jonathan’s arise. 

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