Access to Education

Hawai‘i Appleseed Center for Law Economic Justice represented three homeless families denied access to education. On behalf of these families and all homeless families statewide, Hawai‘i Appleseed filed a class action lawsuit against the State of Hawai‘i in U.S. District Court, seeking statewide injunctive relief to remove policies that violate federal law. The lawsuit sought to ensure that homeless children have full, meaningful access to a public education.

Picture courtesy of Honolulu Civil Beat

Ensuring compliance with the Federal McKinney Vento Act

The lawsuit, Kaleuati v. Tonda, was filed in federal district court in October 2007 by Lawyers for Equal Justice, the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawai`i Foundation, and the law firm Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing.

The case sought to enforce the McKinney-Vento Act and require the Hawai`i DOE to provide such services to comply. After a series of victories by the Plaintiffs, the Board and DOE chose to settle the case when faced with additional court hearings. One of the biggest barriers for homeless children has been the lack of transportation to and from school. In the settlement agreement, the DOE and Board agreed to take the long-needed step of running additional school buses on the Leeward Coast, the highest density homeless area in the State. Where school buses are not available, the DOE will also offer mileage reimbursement for those parents who wish to drive their children to school, supply bus passes for children (and an adult or guardian when the student is too young to travel alone), and/or modify existing school bus routes to pick up homeless children.

Settlement Summary

Under additional provisions of the settlement, the DOE shall:

  • Hire additional homeless liaisons on each island to assist homeless families in navigating the public school system;
  • Inform homeless children and families of their rights under the McKinney-Vento Act (most notably, a child's right to remain in her or his current school and receive transportation to that school – even if the family moves outside of the school district insearch of shelter);
  • Conduct yearly trainings of school personnel, and make annual site visits to schools and homeless shelters statewide;
  • Provide information on the rights of families under the McKinney-Vento Act in Ilokano, Hawai`ian, Samoan, Mandarin, Cantonese, Marshallese and Chuukese among others to make sure individuals with limited English proficiency are adequately informed.
  • Modify its enrollment forms and computer systems to facilitate the enrollment process and improve attendance for homeless children; and
  • Take affirmative steps to avoid stigmatizing homeless families.

Read the full Settlement Order here.

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