Foster-student movement can create nightmare for schools
As Goose Creek High School officials spent countless hours pleading the case for their football team last week, a larger issue has been lost in the shuffle.
*As of June 20
S.C. Department of Social Services
Although the state Department of Social Services tries to keep foster children in their home schools, the students often go from pillar to post, having to start over each time.
For RJ Sloke, that meant he went to ninth grade three times.
In 2006, he walked into Karen Parker’s keyboarding class at Summerville High.
On the second day of school, Parker noticed something amiss and asked him what was wrong. He told her he was hungry, that he was a foster child living in a group home.
She soon discovered he had attended seven high schools.
“The kid had been in so many schools that he didn’t even know what schools he’d been in,” said Parker. “He would go to school a month here and a month there. That’s the sad part of the whole story.”
Every time he switched schools, he had to start over.
“There is nobody keeping track of all this stuff,” she said. “It’s a paperwork nightmare. Somebody’s got to keep track of it, but it’s not easy because these kids move continually. I wish I had an answer for it.”
A similar problem plagued Goose Creek High last week, when the football team was bounced from the playoffs — and then allowed to play — after coach Chuck Reedy discovered that one of his players was not eligible, and reported it to the South Carolina High School League.
The player was a fifth-year high school student who is in the foster care system and has been homeless at times. He has attended three high schools.
A couple of months ago, officials said, his transcript said he had used three years of sports eligibility. On Monday, an updated transcript said four, the maximum allowed.
It’s what can happen when students have to change schools, officials said.
“School movement is difficult,” said Kathleen McLean-Titus, director of independent living for DSS. “It’s just a national problem for kids in foster care.”
DSS officials try to keep kids in their home schools.
“Otherwise, they have to start all over again, and it can be real trying for them,” said Phyllis Thornthwaite, the Berkeley schools’ Children at Risk coordinator.
But it’s not always possible. Sometimes kids are moved from one foster home to another or they move in with relatives.
Whatever the case, where schools are concerned, the transition should be seamless, as is required by the South Carolina Education Bill of Rights for Children in Foster Care, which was passed in 2010.
Schools are required to transfer records within two days, according to the law.
“The school district is responsible for getting records, determining credits, and making sure kids aren’t being detained due to having to move halfway through the year,” McLean-Titus said.
But that doesn’t mean the records are accurate.
Sloke, who is now 22, participated in the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute’s Foster Youth Internship Program in Washington, D.C. last summer, and he aims to fix that problem.
The federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act protects the privacy of students’ education records:
Only parents or students 18 or older have access to the records, and written consent is needed to release those records to others except under certain circumstances.
Sloke has become the poster child for the Uninterrupted Scholars Act, which amends FERPA to allow students’ records to stay intact by allowing access to state or local welfare agencies or tribal organizations responsible for a student’s placement and care.
It was introduced in the U.S. Senate in August as the Uninterrupted Scholars Act and in the House as the A+ PLUS Act of 2012.
“RJ is doing fine,” Parker said. “As much as he’s been through, he just wants to help other people so that nobody else will have to go through what he did.”