Press Releases

February 11, 2020

Landmark Settlement Announced in Lawsuit to Affirm Educational Rights of Homeless Students

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

MEDIA CONTACT: 

Camille de la Vega, Public Counsel

650 787 3675 

cdelavega@publiccounsel.org

Landmark Settlement Announced in Lawsuit to Affirm Educational Rights of Homeless Students

St. Louis, MO – Today, two students experiencing homelessness, their parents, and two non-profit organizations in St. Louis, represented by Public Counsel, the Education Justice Program of Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, and Arnold & Porter, announced a groundbreaking settlement and Consent Decree in their suit against Riverview Gardens School District and the State of Missouri that will help ensure homeless students have basic access to public education. For years, Riverview Gardens School District and the Missouri State Board of Education had failed to meet even the most basic educational needs of homeless students as required by the McKinney-Vento Act, including failure to enroll them, provide transportation, and offer the necessary academic, mental health and wellness support systems needed to succeed. 

As a result of the settlement, Riverview Gardens School District and the State of Missouri will revise their policies and practices with respect to the McKinney-Vento Act in order to better support the education of students experiencing homelessness in the District and throughout the State. The Consent Decree is the first of its kind in the State of Missouri in that it is the first legal action to result in substantial changes to state and district policies regarding access to education for students experiencing homelessness.

“We are pleased that the parties were able to work together in a collaborative way to come up with a settlement that improves access to the education system for this extremely vulnerable group of students, children experiencing homelessness,” said Joel Ferber, Director of Advocacy at Legal Services of Eastern Missouri. 

Homeless students are an especially vulnerable population who experience trauma, violence, racism, and discrimination at higher levels than their peers. Because of the high levels of toxic stress in their lives, youth experiencing homelessness are sick four times more often and experience higher rates of absenteeism and mental health problems than other students. Due to these challenges, the federal government enacted the McKinney-Vento Act to ensure protections for young people experiencing homelessness. 

“The devastating consequences of homelessness and trauma exposure disproportionately impact students of color, including the plaintiffs, and especially here in St. Louis County,” said Luz María Henríquez, Managing Attorney at the Legal Services of Eastern Missouri Education Justice Program. “This settlement will help address the disproportionate impact of educational deprivations on communities of color. It will ensure that the State of Missouri and the Riverview Gardens School District fulfil their legal and moral obligations to students experiencing homelessness by removing barriers they face to accessing the education system and providing the supports they need to succeed.”  

“Education provides an opportunity for students to lift themselves out of poverty,” said Mark Rosenbaum, Directing Attorney at Public Counsel. “It is undisputed that without access to education, students experiencing homelessness are further disadvantaged and deprioritized. This settlement provides a roadmap for schools across the country to improve the educational experience of homeless students.” 

The settlement makes clear that the Riverview Gardens School District and State of Missouri must improve upon existing policies and practices to ensure proper identification and immediate enrollment of students experiencing homelessness, coordinate and provide transportation for students experiencing homelessness, revise and clarify their dispute resolution process, and provide appropriate supports, including trauma-sensitive practices, to help students experiencing homelessness receive a safe, supportive, and high-quality public education. 

“We believe that once implemented, these reforms will help ensure that students experiencing homelessness receive the same access to quality education as their classmates, leveling the playing field so everyone has a fair chance to succeed,” said John Ulin, partner at Arnold & Porter. “Accountability will be a critical component and accordingly, there is a robust monitoring requirement built into this settlement agreement to guarantee compliance and assure students who need it most get the education they deserve.” 

The Court has retained jurisdiction to monitor the implementation of the Consent Decree for three years and ensure that the Defendants remain in compliance with its terms. The Consent Decree fully resolves the litigation and the case will be dismissed following compliance with all terms of the decree.

Read the Consent Decree here.

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Public Counsel is the nation’s largest pro bono law firm. Founded in 1970, Public Counsel strives to achieve three main goals: protect the legal rights of disadvantaged children; represent immigrants who have been the victims of torture, persecution, domestic violence, trafficking, and other crimes; and foster economic justice by providing individuals and institutions in underserved communities with access to quality legal representation. Through a pro bono model that leverages the talents and dedication of thousands of attorney and law student volunteers, along with an in-house staff of more than 75 attorneys and social workers, Public Counsel annually assists more than 30,000 families, children, immigrants, veterans, and nonprofit organizations and addresses systemic poverty and civil rights issues through impact litigation and policy advocacy. For more information, visit www.publiccounsel.org

Legal Services of Eastern Missouri has been a voice of fairness in the legal system to low-income families by providing free civil legal help for 62 years. In 2017, nearly 24,000 people in 21 counties of eastern Missouri received services from four regional offices. The Education Justice Program (EJP) is a groundbreaking unit at Legal Services that works to disrupt the “School-to-Prison-Pipeline” by ensuring that every child receives a good education, in a safe school, no matter what a child looks like or where a child is from. To achieve this goal, EJP employs a community lawyering model and racial justice lens to all of its work. For more information, please visit www.lsem.org

Arnold & Porter has established one of the world's leading law firm pro bono programs. The firm’s pro bono commitment is key to who we are and is the reason why many of our attorneys have made Arnold & Porter their professional home. We believe that all lawyers have a moral obligation to do pro bono work. As part of our pro bono practice, Arnold & Porter attorneys have partnered with leading public interest organizations to achieve significant results in civil rights litigation in such areas as education, homelessness, immigration, voting rights, and indigent criminal defense, among many others. With nearly 1,000 lawyers practicing in 14 offices around the globe, Arnold & Porter offers 100 years of renowned regulatory expertise and sophisticated litigation and transactional practice. For more information, please visit www.arnoldporter.com