By Jim Lacy, Media Volunteer
Last week the CCH Education Committee participated in three key meetings with Chicago Public Schools (CPS) officials to advocate for a stronger districtwide policy to protect homeless students.
Meetings were held with the Jesse Ruiz, vice president of the Chicago Board of Education, and Aarti Dhupelia, chief officer for College and Career Success. Several Education Committee members also spoke during the public comment period at the Board of Education’s Jan. 28 meeting.
At each meeting, the Education Committee – made up of homeless and recently homeless parents and students – delivered a clear message that a pending update of Chicago school policy on homeless education must be specific in how services are explained and delivered to homeless students and their families.
CPS identified a record 22,144 homeless students in the 2013-14 school year, a year’s increase of 18.6%. Homeless students included 2,647 unaccompanied youth, teens who were homeless and living without parent or guardian. The Chicago schools’ Students in Temporary Living Situations (STLS) program was established to provide specific rights and services to homeless students to ensure success in school.
At the Board of Education meeting, Kendra Smith spoke of the difficulty she and her son had in finding a homeless liaison or anyone who even knew about the program at his school. Every CPS-run school is required to designate a homeless liaison to assist students.
Said Ms. Smith, “I am forced to decided between buying food to eat and buying items he needs in school, when the program is supposed to support us with school items and services. There have been times where he has been stranded at school because he wasn’t given bus cards, due to either the liaison not being there or them simply not having any.”
Formerly homeless student Khiani Chew told the city school board, “CPS policy should state that at every school orientation, at the beginning of the year, the liaison be identified and the parents and students should be informed about the services available to them. If the liaison is identified early on,
then parents and students would know who to go to right away and be provided with the help they need immediately.”
Small group meetings with Jesse Ruiz and Aarti Dhupelia were positive. Mr. Ruiz was very interested in hearing the testimony of parents and students and receiving feedback on the policy. He committed to pass the message on to the other Board of Education members.
Ms. Dhupelia said she understood why it is important for the policy to be more detailed. She said CPS would continue to seek feedback from the Education Committee and CCH as school officials complete updating the policy over the next few months.
“We’re here for the kids,” said Taishi Neuman, another Education Committee parent. “The policy needs to be updated so they can succeed in getting their education, going to college and being successful people.”
“Sometimes you have to go through things so that others don’t have to,” Ms. Smith reflected. “I gave my own personal story as to why I’m fighting so hard for homeless families because I’ve been having quite a bit of problems at my son’s school. I’m homeless due to domestic violence, my personal story, being up there as a parent, and the two young ladies up there as homeless students, to see it from our perspective I think touched the members of the Board quite a bit.”
The Education Committee expects to meet with CPS officials by March to review a new draft of the homeless education policy.