Parent tells educators to involve homeless parents in school life

At last week’s No Child Left Behind conference – attended by thousands of educators, school officials and social workers from across Illinois – the CCH Law Project taught one of the seminars addressing the educational needs and rights of homeless students.

A former parent client, Jamilah Scott, helped with our Feb. 5 session on “Engaging Homeless Parents: From Sensitive Identification to Meaningful Involvement.” The workshop addressed the parental involvement that’s mandated by the federal Title 1 and McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. 

JemilaJamilah and her daughter (pictured here) experienced homelessness this school year and sought the Law Project’s help when Plainfield District 202 refused to allow the girl to continue in high school. Jamilah successfully challenged the school action and her remarkably bright and accomplished daughter is now enjoying her freshman year.

Jamilah shared her perspective with an audience of school administrators and teachers, citing the insensitive treatment she and her daughter received at first, the lack of information provided, and the failure of anyone to ask her to volunteer at school discouraged her parental involvement. Despite this, Jamilah has gotten more involved, such as assisting her daughter’s cheerleading team.

“I believe that the best way to affect change is to be a part if the solution,” she said. “I would offer my time, knowledge and skills to aid my children’s schools, teachers, and administrators in developing policies and practices that will be helpful to, and inclusive of homeless parents, minority parents, and parents in crisis.”

Jamilah suggested school officials survey McKinney-Vento parents to learn the parents’ areas of concern, what areas they would be interested in volunteering or helping with, and what specific things the school may need assistance with. The audience was very responsive.

McKinney-Vento and federal Title 1 expect schools to actively engage low-income and disadvantaged parents in their child’s education and in the larger life of the school. As Jamilah pointed out, too often schools view homeless families as simply those in need, without taking advantage of the skills that homeless parents can bring to a school.

– Laurene M. Heybach, Director, The Law Project