Know Your Rights Guide: Chapter 3 - Education And Getting To Graduation

Jennifer Pokempner,

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You deserve a great education, and getting a good education is important to your future!  Sometimes when you are in foster care, you face barriers to educational success.  This chapter gives you information on your rights and how to advocate for yourself to make sure you get an excellent education that gets you ready for higher education, training, and a career. 

I’m in foster care. Where will I go to school? 

How do I get help with transportation to keep attending my school? 

  • The child welfare agency is responsible for working with school districts to arrange transportation for you and putting it in place quickly so you do not miss any school time.  
  • Each child welfare agency has an Education Liaison to help you if you have questions about school placement, enrollment, and transportation. Find your liaison here

What happens if I have to start at a new school when I enter foster care or change placements? 

My placement has an on-grounds school. Do I have to go to that school?  

  • Not necessarily. If you are placed in a group home or any residential facility, you have a right to attend the neighborhood public.
  • The only exceptions to this rule are:
    1. A judge has specifically required you to go to the on-grounds school.
    2. You are placed in the on-grounds school or another school based on your Individualized Education Plan (IEP).  For the on-grounds school to be in your IEP, all members of your IEP team, including you and your Education Decision-Maker, need to agree that the school meet your educational needs.

Who can help me enroll in school? 

  • A foster parent, guardian, caseworker, the education liaison, and your lawyer can help you enroll in school. 

Does the school need to know that I am in foster care or why I am in care? 

  • The school does NOT need to know why you are in foster care. However, in most cases the school will know that you are in foster care because this is part of proving residency and billing tuition to the school district where your biological parents live.  
  • Whether or not you want to share more information about your circumstances and who you share it with is up to you. If you choose to share information with a school social worker or nurse, they should not share this private information with other school staff.      

What do I do if I am having trouble with enrolling in school? 

  • Contact your caseworker, lawyer, and education liaison and ask for help. 
  • If they are not able to help you, you can file a complaint with the School Services Unit at the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Call the Pennsylvania Department of Education at (717) 787-4869 and ask them how to file a formal complaint. 

Can I participate in extracurricular activities at school? 

  • Yes. You have a right to participate in age-appropriate activities to the same extent as your peers who are not in foster care.7 This includes extracurricular activities in and related to school.
  • You do not need to go to court or get the permission of a caseworker to participate in activities. Your foster parent, kinship caregiver, or a designated staff person at a group home or SIL program can give you permission to participate in these activities.
  • At each permanency review hearing, the judge should ask about whether you are involved in activities, including activities in school. If you are facing barriers to participating in activities at school or anywhere else, bring this up in court so that any problems can be addressed.  
  • Ask the education liaison to help you with accessing extracurricular activities and paying for activity fees. Your caseworker and resource parent should help you figure out how to pay for activities if there is a cost.

How long can I attend school? 

  • As of 2020-21 school year, students must attend school until they turn age 18.8 This is the “compulsory school age.” There are some limited exceptions to this requirement, including that a youth who is 16 or older, is regularly engaged in useful and lawful employment or service during the time the public schools are in session, and who holds an employment certificate may be exempted. [24 p.s. §13-1330]. 
  • You have right to attend school until you graduate or until age 21. Some students need more time to complete high school, so take the time you need to graduate. It can help you prepare for college, training, or employment.  

I dropped out of school but now I want to go back. How do I get back in school?  

  • You have a right to enroll or re-enroll at the public school in the district where you are living or in a charter school until age 21 or until you graduate.
  • If you dropped out of high school and are interested in receiving a high school diploma, or are in high school but having difficulty with traditional education, you have options for non-traditional schooling, such as attending an alternative high school program or obtaining a General Equivalency Diploma (GED).    
  • Ask your caseworker, lawyer, and child welfare education liaison to help you re-enroll in school or get help in finding alternative programs.   

What is an education decision maker and why would I need one? 

  • An education decision maker makes decisions regarding your education, including things like:
    • signing permission slips;
    • attending parent-teacher conferences;
    • school changes;
    • protecting your rights in school discipline proceedings;
    • monitoring your educational progress;
    • and making sure you get the services you need to succeed, including remedial services and special education services.
  • Your parent is usually your education decision maker, even if you are in foster care. If your parent is unavailable, a foster parent will have this role.
  • The court can appoint someone to be your “Educational Decision Maker” (EDM) if your parent or foster parent is unable to fill the role or is doing something the court thinks is not in your best interest.9 An EDM makes decisions only regarding your education. 
  • Your education decision maker should be an advocate for you on all education issues. They should advocate for you in school and at court review hearings. They should also meet with you, get to know you, and get your views on the educational decisions that are made on your behalf.

Are my education records confidential?

  • Yes. Your parent or education decision maker gets to decide if anyone gets to see your educational records until you turn 18.
  • Your caseworker also can have access to your records and should keep track of your educational progress and make sure your records are in the family case file.
  • Once you are 18, YOU decide who can see your education records. Schools must get your permission to share your education records with another person or educational institution outside the school district or charter school.
  • You also have the right to correct inaccuracies in your education records. This includes the right to request that your school change your name and gender marker on your records if you feel they are incorrect, misleading, or violate your privacy. You can also correct your records if the number of unexcused absences or school discipline records are incorrect. 

What happens to my credits when I change schools? 

What is an alternative school and when can students be placed in them? 

Can I be placed in an AEDY program because I am in foster care, leaving a residential placement, or leaving a juvenile justice facility? 

  • No. You can only be placed in an AEDY program if there is a hearing that shows that you meet the law’s definition of a “disruptive student.”
  • If you are student with a disability or English learner, you cannot be referred to any “unapproved” AEDY program or a program that cannot meet your educational needs. 

What’s the difference between a suspension and an expulsion? 

  • A suspension is when you are removed from school for fewer than ten days. 
  • An expulsion is when you are removed from school for ten or more days. 

Where can I get help with questions about school discipline? 

  • School discipline is a very complicated area of the law—you should know your rights and get the help you need. There are many protections for students that ensure that suspensions or expulsions are done fairly and do not discriminate based on race, gender, or disability status. 

Expulsion

What about weapon related expulsions? What counts as a weapon? 

  • There are special rules about expulsions related to possessing a weapon on school grounds, at a school activity, or while going to and from school. School law defines weapons very broadly; it can include things like box cutters and pen knives.

Does school discipline work differently if I receive special education services?

  • There are different rules for expulsion for students with disabilities who receive special education services. If you are receiving special education services and are disciplined in school, you may have additional protections.  
  • Make sure to talk to your caseworker, lawyer, and education liaison so they can get you help. 

What are the graduation requirements in Pennsylvania? 

How can I find out more about alternatives to a high school diploma like the General Equivalency Diploma (GED), the HiSet exam and others?

  • Check out this section of the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s website for information on this topic. 

I am receiving special education services. Can I go to college? 

How is the court involved in making sure all my educational needs are met? 

 

Issues

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