Office of Student and Family Support
Ensuring Educational Stability for Students in Foster Care - Guidance
|To:||Public School District Superintendents, Directors of Charter Schools, DCF staff,|
|From:||Acting Commissioner Jeff Wulfson, Department of Elementary and Secondary Education|
|Date:||January 18, 2018|
The purpose of this memorandum is to update you on Massachusetts' efforts to ensure educational access and stability for children in foster care as required by the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and the 2008 Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 (Fostering Connections Act).
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (ESE) and the Department of Children and Families (DCF) recognize the challenges this work may present and the significant collaboration among districts and agencies it will require. Educational stability has a lasting impact on students' academic achievement and wellbeing, and we are committed to supporting district and community efforts to ensure that students in foster care have access to high-quality, stable educational experiences.
In brief, ESSA requires that foster care students continue to attend their school of origin, unless after a collaborative decision-making process it is determined to be in the student's best interest to enroll in and attend school in the district in which a foster care provider or facility is located (if different). ESSA also requires that when it is not in the student's best interest to remain in the school of origin, the student is immediately enrolled and attending in a new school district, even if records normally required for enrollment cannot be quickly produced. Additionally, ESSA requires DCF, ESE, and school districts to designate points of contact; and also that districts collaborate with DCF to ensure that students will receive transportation to the school of origin if needed.
During the 2016-2017 school year, school districts, ESE, and DCF began putting in place policies and procedures to implement the law. Our goal is to help you implement these ESSA provisions in school year 2017-2018 by providing joint guidance that supplements the US Department of Education's Non-Regulatory Guidance. Select information from the joint guidance is provided below. Please see the attached guidance document for additional details.
Best Interest Determination
Decisions about whether a student in foster care should continue to attend the school of origin should be made collaboratively by DCF, the student (as appropriate), the student's family and/or foster family (and if different, the person authorized to make educational decisions on behalf of the student), the school and district of origin, and (when different) the local district where the student is placed, and these parties should have the opportunity to participate meaningfully in the decision-making process. Best interest determinations should focus on the needs of each individual student and take into account a variety of factors. Every effort should be made to reach agreement regarding the appropriate school placement of a student in foster care. However, if there is disagreement regarding school placement for a student in foster care, DCF will finalize the best interest determination.
When DCF and the involved district(s) cannot agree about whether it is in the student's best interest to remain in the school of origin or to enroll and attend locally, and DCF makes a final decision that the district cannot accept, the district can seek review of DCF's decision by utilizing a Foster Care School Selection Dispute Resolution Process established by ESE and DCF. Decisions made through this process are not subject to review. Details are available from ESE and will be posted to the ESE's Foster Care page. Under ESSA, to promote educational stability, students should continue to attend their schools of origin while best interest determinations are being made.
Some students in foster care will need transportation to remain in their schools of origin. Districts of origin must collaborate with DCF to implement clear written procedures governing how transportation will be provided and arranged to ensure that students in foster care who need transportation to remain in their school of origin will receive such transportation while they are in foster care.
Districts and DCF are encouraged to consider a variety of options for providing the necessary transportation in each case. The options may include using Title I funds, establishing regional collaborations among districts, coordinating with existing routes for transportation, seeking help from foster parent(s), etc. Absent other agreements between districts and DCF, the district of origin is responsible for providing transportation to and from the school of origin.
ESE and DCF are actively collaborating to explore possibilities for the state to claim federal funding through Title IV-E of the Social Security Act, to help support these transportation costs. If the state is able to receive federal approval via a Title IV-E state plan amendment, we would be in position to begin a claim process with those districts that have incurred unreimbursed costs to transport eligible students to and from the school of origin per ESSA. As we work towards this goal, we will be in consultation with school districts. Districts are encouraged to document all transportation costs associated with these activities.
If it is in the best interest of a student in foster care to leave the school of origin, the student must be enrolled in school in the local school district immediately. To minimize disruption of the student's education, ESSA requires the district to enroll the student in a new school right away, without waiting to receive the typical student enrollment documentation (other than emergency contact information). The enrolling school must immediately contact the child's school and district of origin to obtain the relevant records and documentation, and the school and district of origin should immediately transfer those records.
To facilitate enrollment, DCF representatives will present a Notice to LEA (Local Educational Agency) form that indicates that the student is in foster care, along with their state-agency identification badge, to the local school district when enrolling students. Note: DCF also presents a Notice to LEA to the school district in which a student is currently enrolled to indicate a change of placement/residential address within the same school district and/or a change of contact information of legal guardian/foster parent(s)/education decision maker/social worker, etc.
ESE and DCF will continue to develop guidance and gather best practices, and we will post additional information to the ESE foster care webpage when available. In the meantime, if you have questions please contact ESE's foster care contacts or ESE's Associate Commissioner for Student and Family Support, Rachelle Engler Bennett (781-338-3205).
Thank you for all you do for students, including those who are in foster care.