Education Committee parents speak up about CPS proposal to oversimplify its homeless education policy

Today our Education Committee used its voice at the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Board of Education meeting.

During the board’s public comment session, three recently homeless parents from the CCH Education Committee spoke up about the city schools’ proposed update of its policy on serving homeless students — with 22,144 homeless students identified last school year. Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH), including its Law Project, has advocated that the policy be updated from the original version adopted in 1996. 

But the new policy proposed by CPS is oversimplified. At two paragraphs, the proposal fails to specify what services students are entitled to receive from their schools’ homeless liaison. It also proposes to allow future amendments to the policy be adopted simply by CPS posting them on its district website.

“A good homeless policy should have a time frame for school staff to distribute uniforms, supplies, and bus cards within a week’s time,” parent Sam Neuman told the board. “These items are essential to ensure children are prepared for school and should not take two to three months, like at Gale Elementary, where my child attends.”

Marilyn Escoe shared her story of how she tried to utilize services from the CPS office of Students in Temporary Living Situations (STLS). Instead, she said her family was given the run-around by her school liaison and principal, who delayed implementing hardship transportation for her four children to get to and from their shelter and school.

“A good homeless policy should say what a parent needs to do to prove hardship,” Ms. Escoe said, “and make sure that more than one school staff is trained by STLS so that they are aware of the services and how to help homeless families. Also, there should be someone to check and make sure each liaison and school is doing what they are supposed to be doing.”

Parent Taishi Neuman told the board that its proposed policy is “vague and not specific enough. A good policy should be detailed and comprehensive, and its details should not only be on a website, but also on an official policy to protect the rights of homeless students and ensure the school staff follow what is on the policy.”

The proposed homeless education policy remains under consideration by Chicago’s Board of Education. Last year, CPS identified 22,144 homeless students in 2013-14, a year’s increase of 18.6%.

– Dasia Skinner, Education Committee organizer