KidsVoice enforces the rights of children in foster and group homes to remain in their home school district, or when that is not possible, to be immediately enrolled in an appropriate school setting. We also help with special education, school discipline and other education issues.
Getting Into School
There are 3 basic steps you need to take to enroll in school:
You need to give the school 4 specific documents
The school district MUST enroll you within 5 school days after getting those documents (weekend days don't count)
You go to school!
4 In the Door
Each kid needs to hand in only 4 required pieces of paperwork (also called enrollment documents) to enroll in school. You need:
Proof of your age
Proof that you've had the immunizations required by law
Proof of where you live
A parent registration statement signed by a person that has care or control of you and it does need to be notarized
What kind of school will you go to?
The school district needs to place you in the school that will give you the most appropriate educational program based on what they know about your school background at the time of your enrollment.
Keeping You in Your Home School
There are two laws that work to make sure all efforts are made to help you stay in the school you were in before placement OR stay in the same school should your placement change.
McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act
This law says that if you're in temporary placement like a shelter (not yet in a foster home or other, more permanent placement), then you have the right to a) attend the school where your placement is located OR b) go back to the school you attended before placement.
Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act
This law says that kids who are in out-of-home care, if it's in their best interest, may continue to attend their school at the time of placement.
These laws try to help kids in care “maintain educational stability”. For example, in your home school you may have positive support systems (like teachers, counselors, coaches, people in the neighborhood) and friends, which are important to maintain. If you're in a temporary placement in a new district but want to stay in your home school, then you're McKinney-Vento eligible.
If you're in out-of-home care then the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act may let you stay in your home school.
If you think you need assistance in school to learn or with behaviors that interfere with your learning, talk to your school, parent, guardian, or your KidsVoice case team about getting help. If needed, an evaluation will be conducted and you may qualify for an Individual Education Plan (IEP).
You must make a request to the school if you are in need of a special education evaluation. Your parent, guardian or education decision maker can make that request. The request can be verbal but the school will require that you parent, guardian or education decision maker sign a permission to evaluate form (PTE).
The evaluation will determine if you qualify for special education services. The evaluation process can take up to 60 calendar days and will consist of observations, teacher and parent input and you meeting with a psychologist for testing.
Once the evaluation is completed an IEP team meeting will be scheduled to review the evaluation report (ER). If you qualify for an IEP then one will be developed with the IEP team input. The IEP team can consist of teachers, other service providers, KidsVoice, parent guardian or education decision maker, social worker, guidance counselor and principal. Once the IEP is signed the services /accommodations should begin within 10 days.
Your IEP will
be specific to you
be designed to meet your unique educational needs
put you in regular classes as often as possible
Your IEP is to be reviewed every year from the date that that the IEP was implemented. The annual IEP should address progress and update goals as needed. Your IEP should outline specially designed instruction that you need to be successful. If you are not making progress you can ask your parent, guardian or education decision maker to request that IEP be reopened and that an IEP team meeting be convened to address any issues.
If you are 14 or older you’re IEP should address transitioning planning. This is to ensure that your are receiving the appropriate skills to transition out of school whether that be employment, post secondary or vocation.
You have protections if you are facing discipline issues and are in special education.
Meeting Unique Learning Needs
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act protects kids who have a disability that impairs a major life activity and requires accommodation(s) in the school setting. You may need an accommodation but your disability does not affect your educational needs meaning you do not need special instruction or an IEP.
For example you may have ADHD and need to sit in the first row in the classroom or have a physical disability that requires a wheel chair accessible bus and classroom.
You can request the school implement a 504 plan outlining the specific accommodation that you need to be successful in school. Your parent, guardian or educational decision maker can make this request. You can contact your KidsVoice case team for help.
If I request an evaluation when will the evaluation be done?
Your educational decision maker must sign a permission to evaluate and the school district must complete the evaluation in 60 calendar days.
Will I be in regular classes if I have an IEP?
To the greatest extent possible, you should be in regular classes (called the “least restrictive environment”) while still receiving your special education services.
The school district has different ways that you can be held accountable for your actions at school. For example, you can get detention, you can be suspended both in and out of school, you can be moved to alternative education school or you can be expelled. This is a complicated area and you should contact a member of your KidsVoice case team at 412-391-3100 to discuss more.
Different rules may apply if you're expelled, for example, if you had a weapon on school grounds, at a school activity, or even going to and from school. School law defines weapons very broadly and the consequences are serious. The school must hold a formal hearing before you can be expelled. You can bring your own witnesses and lawyer to the hearing. Use this hearing to tell your side of things—to explain what was going on in school that led to you being expelled. You can ask people who support you — for example, your parents, your guardian, a mentor or coach—who can speak on your behalf at the hearing. You should also tell your KidsVoice case team. At the hearing, you should try to present as much positive information as you can about your behavior or anything else that may show that you're able to stay in your current school safely.
Special education has special rights within the discipline system
The law is very detailed when it comes to expulsion and/or your rights when you have an IEP. If you have questions about how this applies to your situation contact KidsVoice at 412-391-3100.
What if you're placed in an alternative school when returning from placement?
No student should automatically be placed in an alternative school just because they are returning from a placement. If the school intends to do this, they must conduct an informal hearing and notify your parent, guardian or education decision maker about the hearing. If you end up being transferred to an alternative school, your progress should be reviewed at least every semester. Ask to be part of the review and advocate—speak up!—for yourself. If you think you have made progress and should be transferred back to your home school, make sure the school knows you're making improvements and request that your situation should be reviewed.
Working Toward Your GED
GED stands for General Equivalency Diploma. Most colleges and other schools (like trade and career schools) will accept a GED in place of a high school diploma. Passing the GED test can be very difficult — only 6 out of 10 people who take the GED pass it on the first try. That's why it's a good idea to take a GED preparation class.
If you take the GED before you're 18 or before your high school class graduates, you'll not receive your official certificate until you turn 18 or when your high school class graduates (whichever happens first). But you can get your scores before you're 18 if you need to show someone that you passed.
The conciliation process is a meeting where your KidsVoice case team sits down with representatives from the Department of Human Services (DHS) and the Children, Youth and Families (CYF) law department to look at your individual situation. They'll determine what kind of support you need to succeed while you're attending your course of instruction full time. You should come and participate in the meetings! The conciliation process is not about CYF or DHS paying your tuition! Securing financial aid for your course of instruction is your responsibility.
Some examples of post-secondary education programs include:
traditional 4-year colleges (in state or out of state)
community college, two-year associate colleges, junior colleges
specialized post-secondary education programs for clients with mental health or intellectual disabilities
technical programs, trade schools
apprenticeship, job training programs
You'll also need to provide other relevant information about your current situation and what it is you think you need to succeed, so make sure to ask about this.
Applying for Financial Aid
Applying for financial aid to further your education is your responsibility, but there are a number of people who can help you through the process. Your Independent Living Initiative (ILI) educational liaison can sit down and help complete your FAFSA with you in person. Or you might work with your foster parent(s), school guidance counselor, ILI caseworker, or IL program worker. The most important thing is that you complete your FAFSA by the deadline to maximize the amount of aid you're eligible to receive in order to go to school.
The FAFSA — Free Application for Federal Student Aid — is the form used to determine how much federal and state financial aid you're eligible for college or trade school. Your first step in applying for financial aid is to complete the FAFSA so that you can apply for all federal financial aid, including both grants and loans. Many colleges use the FAFSA to determine eligibility for their own scholarships and grants.
The FAFSA can be completed on paper or online. You can get a paper copy of the FAFSA in your guidance counselor's office or at any college admission or financial aid office. To apply online go to www.fafsa.ed.gov.
When do you submit the FAFSA?
The FAFSA is made available on January 1st for the school year beginning the next fall. You need to send in your FAFSA by May 1st of the academic year you intend to go to school to get the maximum amount of state and federal aid. At a minimum, you need to get the FAFSA completed by June 30 of that academic year to ensure that you'll get some federal aid to go to school in the fall. After June 30, you'll need to wait and apply again the next year—and this means no aid for the school year.
You must resubmit a FAFSA form every year while you're in college—that—s by May 1st of the academic year you intend to go to school (so the May before you start a new academic year in September of that same year). Make sure you report any changes in your mailing address so that you don't miss any deadlines.
If you need help filling out the application?
Call your Independent Living Initiative Educational Liaison. You can also contact your Independent Living (IL) caseworker or provider if you are assigned to one. If you are not sure who assigned to work with you on your case, call KidsVoice at 412-391-3100 and a member of your case team will be able to direct you to the right person!
Grants and Scholarships
There are quite a few school grants and scholarships that are available for kids currently in care or who have been in substitute care. Some of these scholarship opportunities are listed below. For more information about any of these grants and scholarships, contact your Independent Living Initiative (ILI) educational liaison or read the descriptions in the Know Your Rights Manual.
Each scholarship or grant has its own specific requirements, its own application process, and its own due date(s).