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L.R. v. Steelton-Highspire School Dist.

April 7, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Sylvia H. Rambo


On March 29, 2010, the court issued a preliminary injunction, (Doc. 21), after a hearing, requiring Defendant Steelton-Highspire School District ("the District") to immediately re-enroll Plaintiff, L.R., a minor, in the Steelton-Highspire Junior High School as his pendent school placement and maintain his enrollment in the District pending full resolution of this dispute in accordance with 42 U.S.C. § 11432(g)(3)(E)(i) of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Improvements Act of 2001, 42 U.S.C. §§ 11431-11435 ("McKinney-Vento Act" or "the Act"). This memorandum sets out the court's reasoning and supports its issuance of the injunction.

I. Background

A. Facts

Plaintiff L.R. is a 13-year old child of compulsory school age pursuant to 24 P.S. §§ 13-1326 and 13-1327(a). (Stipulation, Doc. 22, ¶ 1.) The District is a Local Educational Agency within the meaning of the McKinney-Vento Act. (Id. ¶ 2.) Plaintiff was enrolled in the District by his grandmother, G.R., in 2003. (Id. ¶ 3.) G.R. testified that she is the educational decision maker for L.R., this includes implementing L.R.'s individualized education plan ("IEP"). Furthermore, Plaintiff's mother has never played a role in either raising him or in his education. Finally, Scott Kuren, the Coordinator of Pupil Services at the District confirmed that L.R. was enrolled by G.R., and that G.R. was the adult responsible for his educational decisions.

On January 27, 2009, the home where L.R. and G.R. lived in Steelton was destroyed by fire, rendering them homeless and displaced. (Id. ¶ 4.) As a result of their displacement, G.R. and L.R. moved to live temporarily with relatives in Harrisburg. (Id. ¶ 5.) The house that Plaintiffs moved to is leased by G.R.'s daughter-Plaintiff's aunt-and, in addition to G.R. and L.R., there are four other persons living there. G.R. testified that she and L.R. share a bedroom, and that they must live by the rules of the house, including a rule that they are not allowed to go to the lower level of the house after bedtime. G.R. testified that, despite the fact that she and L.R. have been residing there since January 2009, they are there temporarily and at the mercy of her daughter. G.R. intends to move back to Steelton as soon as she is able to do so. She testified that she earns $800 per month from employment with Goodwill Industries, but that she is trying to save money to move. She also testified that she is on the priority list for subsidized housing through the Dauphin County Housing Authority and hopes to be permanently housed back in the District soon.

Beginning in January 2009 continuing until June 2009, the District recognized L.R. as homeless pursuant to the McKinney-Vento Act, and provided transportation to the District from the house where L.R. lives in Harrisburg. (Id. ¶ 6.) However, in August 2009, continuing through the present, the District refused to enroll L.R. in its schools. (Id. ¶ 8.) G.R testified that she spoke with Kuren in August of 2009, when she inquired with him why she did not get any papers arranging L.R.'s transportation for the 2009-2010 school year. According to G.R., Kuren told her that L.R. was taken off the register in June of 2009 because they no longer lived in the District, and that she should try enrolling L.R. in the Harrisburg School District. For his part, Scott Kuren testified that he made the decision not to enroll L.R. in the District in August 2009 because he learned that G.R. and L.R. continued to reside in the same home with relatives in Harrisburg, and that L.R.'s mother lived down the street from them. Based on this information, Kuren stated that he concluded that L.R. was no longer homeless, and since he was not a resident of the District, that he should not be enrolled for the 2009-2010 school year. Both G.R. and Kuren testified that Kuren never notified G.R. in writing of his decision not to enroll L.R., and did not tell her that she could appeal that decision.

After L.R. was refused enrollment in the District, G.R. tried to enroll him in the Harrisburg School District but it would not accept him either. G.R. then contacted L.R.'s juvenile probation officer Danatia Baker, and L.R.'s caseworker from the Dauphin County Case Management Unit, Brienne Long. Both Ms. Baker and Ms. Long testified at the hearing that they attempted to intervene with the District, but that they too were unsuccessful in getting the District to enroll L.R. Eventually, through the intervention of the Capital Area Intermediate Unit, and a regional coordinator who supervises local school district's homeless liaisons, the Harrisburg School District was instructed to enroll L.R. This determination was made in February 2010.

Despite his enrollment in Harrisburg, G.R. testified at the hearing that she wants L.R. to be enrolled in the District because she believes that this is in his best interests. The District has a long history of working with his disabilities and have implemented his IEP. In contrast, G.R. testified that the Harrisburg School District has yet to have an IEP meeting and she is uncertain when such a meeting will take place. While there was some testimony from the District's special education coordinator Cynthia Sell that the Harrisburg School District may be better equipped to handle L.R.'s special education needs, this information was generalized and not particular. For instance, Ms. Sell could not say for certain whether L.R.'s IEP was transferred from the District to the Harrisburg School District only that this was routinely done. Furthermore, Ms. Sell had no personal knowledge of the type of services, if any, that L.R. was receiving in the Harrisburg School District.

G.R. also testified that she intends to move back to the District as soon as her name comes up on the priority housing list, and that L.R. has not adjusted well to the transition to Harrisburg. She testified that she desires to have L.R. in the District's schools for the sake of continuity and stability of his education and his social relationships.

B. Procedural Background

G.R. commenced this case on behalf of L.R. by filing a complaint on March 2, 2010, along with an Emergency Motion for Preliminary Injunction and brief in support (Docs. 1, 3-4.) The court originally scheduled a hearing for March 17, 2010, but rescheduled the hearing at Plaintiff's request by order dated March 12, 2010. (Doc. 12.) On March 24, 2010, Defendant filed its brief in opposition. (Doc. 15.) A hearing was held on March 29, 2010, and the court issued an order that same day granting Plaintiff's motion. (Doc. 21.) This memorandum sets forth the court's reasoning in support of its March 29, 2010 order.

II. Discussion

Under the McKinney-Vento Act, the District-a local education agency ("LEA")-is required to continue a homeless child's education in the school of origin ("home school") for the duration of homelessness, or enroll the child in the appropriate public school within the attendance area of the student's temporary housing ("local school"). 42 U.S.C. ยง ...

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