The Oregonian reported this week – in a piece written by reporter David Austin and in a column by Steve Duin – that the Community Transitional School, a program which educates homeless kids, had lost their lease and would be forced to relocate. Austin’s article called the school a model program for educating children on the streets.
Austin and Duin are both fine journalists and most of the time you’ll find me agreeing with their reporting. On this issue, however, I take exception based on my nearly 20 years working on issues of homelessness. My work has included several years of working directly with school age kids.
The Community Transitional School is not a model program (though the intent may be good).
Experts on homelessness and education, such as the National Association for the Education of Homeless Youth and Children, support the idea that mainstreaming homeless kids in public schools benefits children more than attending separate schools. The National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty are also supporters of public education for students living on the streets and oppose separate schools.
We do not place kids in separate educational facilities based on race. Why would we put them in separate facilities based on their housing status?
Barbara Duffield, public policy director for the National Association for the Education of Homeless Youth and Children, told me this morning:
"No separate school is a model for homeless children. In fact, federal law strictly prohibits school segregation by housing status because separate schools are considered a harmful educational practice. Segregation deprives children of the resources, structure, and stability of a mainstream school environment. Furthermore, we have learned over the years that model homeless education programs are those that keep children stable in their schools of origin, remove barriers to enrollment, attendance, and success, and afford homeless children and youth every opportunity to participate in school activities. We also have learned from those communities who had separate programs and then transitioned to an integrated model; these communities report being able to provide more comprehensive services to more children in an integrated setting. Fortunately, Portland has just such a model program - Project Return - which has received national recognition as an outstanding homeless education program."
This is not an issue about the Community Transitional School (though they take criticism quite personally and three years ago had their attorney write a letter demanding that I not question their program).
This is an issue about how best to educate kids living on the streets.
I’m quite sure that the volunteers and financial supporters of the Community Transitional School support this program because they believe it is the best way to help homeless students. That’s a laudable goal and they should be applauded for their work.
But separate is never equal. We know that. It is unfortunate that Diane Linn, Multnomah County Chair, has allowed county funds to support this program instead of using that money to support the Portland Public School’s Project Return. Linn's failure to address this issue has hurt the effort to educate homeless kids.
All our efforts should be focused on making sure that the public schools fully address the needs of their students – including those who are homeless.
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