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Homeless Students Sue St. Louis County School District and State of Missouri for Denying Basic Educational Rights

For years, Riverview Gardens School District and the Missouri State Board of Education have failed to meet even the most basic educational needs of homeless students including failing to enroll them, failing to provide transportation, and neglecting to offer the necessary academic, mental health and wellness support systems they need to succeed.  Education provides an opportunity for homeless students to lift themselves up—without it, students are disadvantaged and deprioritized.

Under the McKinney-Vento Act, school districts are required to provide homeless children the opportunity to enroll in public schools, the transportation they need to get there, and the resources they need to succeed. For years, Riverview Gardens School District, and by extension the State Board of Education in Missouri, have failed to provide all three.

“Providing homeless students with an opportunity to succeed at school isn’t just a moral obligation—it’s a legal one. What works isn’t a mystery. We know what barriers keep homeless children from thriving at school, and the failure to correct for them is irresponsible and illegal.” – Alisa Hartz, Public Counsel

The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act was enacted in 1987 to ensure that students experiencing homelessness have an opportunity not only to attend school but to have the tools to succeed. The school district and the state have a legal responsibility to ensure that homeless students attend school in a trauma-sensitive environment, which the Riverview Gardens School District has clearly failed to do. The complaint details stories from plaintiffs about schools making it impossible for homeless students to enroll, the lack of safe and reliable transportation options to get students to school and allow them to participate in extracurricular activities, the use of physical restraints as punitive measures, zero-tolerance suspension policies, law enforcement presence in schools, and an absence of support systems.

Additionally, this case seeks to correct the disproportional impact of educational deprivations on communities of color. 98.4% of students in the Riverview Gardens School District identified as African American in 2017, and communities of color in St. Louis are disproportionately affected by multiple issues, including:

  • Socioeconomic hardships. 98.8% of students qualify for free and reduced-price lunch.
  • Housing insecurity. Riverview Gardens School District is home to 5 of the 10 small cities with the highest eviction rates in Missouri.
  • Violence. RGSD students are routinely exposed to shootings, beatings, robberies, and other violent acts.
  • Racism. Though African Americans make up just 67% of the population of Ferguson, they accounted for 93% of arrests made from 2012-2014.

Research shows that, left unaddressed, exposure to multiple traumas as a child is a strong driver of academic failure. As a result, educational disparities compound with the issues that the community already faces and leaves trauma unaddressed for many students.

For more in-depth information about the violations of law, plaintiffs, and solutions, read the full complaint.