A mother has sued her local school district and a North Carolina official in federal court, saying that her children were wrongly forced to switch schools after the family lost their housing.
The woman, identified as K.L. in the complaint, said that Gaston County School District and Lisa Phillips, North Carolina Department of Public Instruction State Coordinator for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth, failed to follow the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act and state laws.
“The consequence of the Defendants’ conduct is that homeless children are being turned away at the schoolhouse door midyear, significantly impacting their educational development and their opportunity to participate in the decision-making process regarding the provision of a free and appropriate education,” the Jan. 26 request for preliminary injunction and restraining order said.
K.L., a disabled veteran, is representing herself in court, according to the document, which she hand-delivered to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina.
According to the complaint, the family was served an eviction notice from their residence in Gastonia in September 2023 and left the home Oct. 18. The mother was unable to find housing for the family. While K.L. was able to find housing Nov. 1 on Atticus Avenue, the family can’t afford the rent and they are at risk of being evicted. She told a school official that the family had stayed with her mother until they received a notice that they were violating her mother’s apartment lease agreement. Another school official told K.L. that her homelessness was voluntary because K.L. had an agreement with the original landlord, but K.L. said the landlord did not plan to renew the lease with her.
The two homes are roughly 5 miles apart, according to Google Maps. By roadway driving, the Atticus home is about 7 miles away from Cramerton Middle School and 8 miles away from New Hope Elementary School while the former home was about 2 miles from Cramerton and 3 miles from New Hope.
The Charlotte Observer reported that the mother said she has asked for different types of transfers to get her children, who are her great niece and great niece whom she gained guardianship of since their biological parents had substance abuse issues, back into their original schools. She asked the judge in the complaint to compel the school district to allow the children back into those schools while she appeals the case. Currently, they’re being homeschooled.
The McKinney-Vento law requires that the state must ensure any policies that could be a barrier for school success must ensure those regulations allow homeless children to have the same public education other children have, according to the complaint. If there is a dispute about school enrollment, the student will immediately be allowed to attend the school where the enrollment is sought, pending the dispute’s resolution.
The Midwesterner attempted to reach Phillips and several school officials, including Chief Communications Officer Todd Hagans, via email Feb. 5 and 6. Cramerton Middle School Principal Kevin Doran was the sole person to respond, and he directed The Midwesterner to Hagans.