For the first time since the statewide closure of schools in the spring in response to COVID-19, Texas schools have slowly begun to physically re-open for the start of the new school year. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has developed school reopening guidance to advise teachers, students, and staff about returning to school. While students may not experience the traditional school environment at present, school continues to provide opportunities for child development, positive peer and adult relationships, learning, and skill-building.
At each permanency hearing, the court must assess whether a child’s educational needs and goals are being met. Similarly, attorneys and guardians ad litem must be knowledgeable about the child’s education needs and goals. Please read below for a few important considerations to ensure students in foster care remain on track throughout the school year.
Texas Education Code Section 25.092 requires students to attend at least 90% of their classes to receive credit and to be promoted to the next grade. The requirement still stands in the current remote and in-person learning environments. TEA created an Attendance and Enrollment FAQ which explains acceptable methods of attendance for the 2020-2021 school year, including remote synchronous, remote asynchronous, remote course completion, and on-campus attendance.
Every child in foster care has an education decision-maker (EDM), and children and youth receiving special education services also have a parent, foster parent, or surrogate parent to ensure the educational rights of the child are protected. In determining whether to enroll a child in remote or in-person instruction, these decision-makers must consider which option best serves the child’s individualized education needs.
Student academic growth is significantly delayed by placement changes and school moves. The delay is exacerbated when placement and school instability occur simultaneously. Federal and state law require that a child in foster care remain in their school of origin, which is the school the child is attending at the time they enter into foster care or the school the child is attending during any subsequent placement change, unless it is not in the child’s best interest.
Appropriateness of the child’s current educational setting and the proximity to the school must be factors in each residential placement decision. Virtual instruction, if determined to be in the best interest of the child, can provide continuity of education as it allows the child to remain in their school of origin despite traditional barriers that the physical distance of a new placement may impose. If it is not in the best interest of the child to remain in their school of origin, the child must be enrolled in their new school within three school days and their records must be transferred within 10 days.
Though COVID-19 precautions have disrupted many aspects of the lives of children and youth in foster care, providing normalcy is still critical. Judges, attorneys, and advocates should consider opportunities for children and youth to explore their interests and engage with their peers and family virtually or in a safe, socially distanced manner. Some enrichment activities may also be available through the school district.
Additional Considerations for Judges, Attorneys, and Advocates
Other education-related considerations include:
- Which method of instruction is most appropriate to meet the child’s educational needs?
- How is the child’s educational progress being measured and is the child on target?
- Does the child need any additional tutoring or compensatory services?
- How is the child’s social and emotional well-being supported?
- If the child is participating in remote learning:
- Does the child have access to the devices needed to fully participate?
- Does the child have access to reliable, high-speed internet?
- If the child receives special education services:
- Has Admission, Review and Dismissal (ARD) meeting been held to determine what services and supports are needed for the child in the remote or in-person environment?
- Are modifications needed in the child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP)?
- Does the child receive regular meals through the school, if needed?
Though the school year may look different due to COVID-19, judges, attorneys, and advocates can still monitor and encourage the educational progress of children and youth in foster care.