On September 29, 2014, Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 1111 (Lara), a comprehensive bill that addresses the transfer rights of students referred to county community schools, makes the statute consistent with state and federal laws governing the educational placement rights of foster care and homeless youth, and closes an existing loophole in the discipline code which allows students who have won their expulsion hearing to be denied their right to return to a comprehensive school.
Although originally intended to serve as a “safety net” for our most vulnerable students, students are too often placed in these schools without regard to their educational needs. They are often never given the opportunity to return to a regular comprehensive school. Many of these youth eventually dropout, with county community schools having one of the rates in the state at 35%. These schools also disproportionately enroll youth of color. African-American and Latino youth comprised 69% of total county community school enrollment in 2013-14.
SB 1111 provides must needed protections concerning the rights of students transferred to these schools by doing the following:
a) Updates the “probation-referral” provisions so that they are consistent with the Welfare and Institutions Code and that no juvenile justice youth is improperly placed or referred to these schools.
b) Removes reference to homeless and foster youth because their educational placement rights are governed by the federal McKinney-Vento Act and/or AB 490.
c) Ensures that these schools are not exempt from the Education Code provisions governing Independent Study.
d) Adds language to ensure that the educational rights of special needs and English Learner students are observed at these schools.
e) Adds protections for those students referred through the School Attendance Review Board process.
f) Ensures that transferring entities confirm that an enrollment space is available, the school is geographically accessible for the student, and that it can meet the student’s educational needs.
g) Clarifies that students who voluntarily transfer may reenroll in a regular, comprehensive school;
h) Clarifies that students can return to a regular, comprehensive school, as county community schools were intended to only be short-term placements.
i) Provides that students who win at their expulsion hearings, except those found to have committed a mandatory offense, have the right to return to their original school.
SB 1111 will improve student success, help local county education entities meet the needs of these students, reduce improper transfers, and increase graduation rates — especially among the students most at-risk for school push-out. The Youth Law Center cosponsored SB 1111 with Public Counsel, Youth Justice Coalition, Legal Services for Children, Fight Crime: Invest in Kids California, Children Now and the ACLU.