Education during and after Foster Care

Your rights in elementary, middle and high school

Will I have to go to a different school if my foster care placement puts me in a different school district?

You will not necessarily have to change schools if you move to a new foster care placement. Virginia law says that a foster child does not have to change schools when he or she moves to a new foster home, even if the new home is in a different school district. Your teacher, social worker and other people involved in your education (including you) should decide together what is best for you – staying in the same school or changing schools. If everyone agrees it’s best for you to stay in the school you were attending before you changed foster homes, you will stay in that school.

What is the Great Expectations program?

Great Expectations is a program in place at some community colleges in Virginia for current and former foster youth, ages 16 through 24. Through the program, you can receive tutoring, help with your college and financial aid applications, a community college student mentor, and other key things to help you prepare for your future. Sixteen community colleges in Virginia currently have Great Expectations programs.  For a list of those community colleges and more information about the Great Expectations program, go to http://greatexpectations.vccs.edu.

If I have to go to a different school, how soon will I start going to my new school?

You should not miss school when your foster care placement changes or when you are first placed in foster care. The school must admit you immediately, even if your social worker can’t provide your birth certificate or other documents right away.

How do I know the rules of my school?

All the rules are listed in the Code of Student Conduct, which applies to all children and youth attending the school, not just to those in foster care. You should get a copy of this document at the beginning of each school year or, if you start a new school in the middle of a school year, as soon as you start. You can ask a teacher or the principal for a copy of the Code of Student Conduct.

Can the school search my belongings?

Yes. School administration can search your belongings if they have a good reason to believe that you have a specific item you are not allowed to have at school. The search must be done to find a specific item – school personnel cannot go through your belongings just to see what’s there. Searches can include: your locker, your backpack, your purse, your car. The teacher can ask you to hand over anything he or she reasonably thinks breaks school laws.

What behavior can get me suspended or expelled?

It’s all in the Code of Student Conduct – READ IT! Some common reasons for suspension or expulsion include: too many unexcused absences or late arrivals, insulting teachers or other students, threatening teachers or other students, throwing things, fighting, possessing weapons, spitting or smoking.

What are my rights if I am suspended or expelled?

The principal must tell you that you are being suspended and why, and he or she must give you a chance to tell your side of the story. There are two types of suspensions – short term (10 days or less) and long term (more than 10 days). You can be expelled (kicked out of school) for serious offenses, such as bringing a weapon to school, purposely damaging school property, having alcohol or drugs on school property or purposely injuring another person.  If you are suspended for more than ten days or expelled, the principal must send a letter home explaining what happened, when you can return to school and your appeal rights. Talk to your social worker or foster parent about who the letter will go to. If you get a notice of a long-term suspension or an expulsion, you should call a lawyer to discuss an appeal. You can call your GAL or contact Just Children (a legal aid office specializing in education law). You can get contact information for a Just Children office at www.justice4all.org/our_programs/justchildren or by calling 1-800-578-8111. If you are having trouble finding a lawyer, call the Virginia Poverty Law Center, Inc. at 1-800-868-8752.

What are my rights if a school resource officer wants to talk with me?

There are police officers in almost all public schools called “school resource officers.” If you are questioned by a school resource officer, you have the right to say: “I have the right to talk with a lawyer. I will not talk with you until I talk with a lawyer.”