North Carolina mother sues school district for kicking her homeless kids out of class

GASTONIA, N.C. (WJZY) — A woman in North Carolina is suing a school district, alleging officials forced her children to switch schools while they experienced homelessness. 

The suit from the mother, identified as K.L., claims Gaston County Schools; Lisa Phillips, state coordinator for Education of Homeless Children; and the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction failed her children when the district forced the children to leave their original schools while already facing the trauma of homelessness. 

The 17-page lawsuit filed on Jan. 26 states K.L. was evicted from her residence in September 2023 while her children were students at New Hope Elementary and Cramerton Middle School. 

With two children and nowhere to go, the suit states the disabled veteran mother switched both children to car riders while searching for steady housing. While the family remained in the same city, they were not located in the same school zone following the eviction.

Kathy Gauger is the executive director at Catherine’s House in Belmont. She sees women and their children in similar situations while experiencing homelessness. Up to 15 families can stay at the nonprofit facility up to six months while they find safe, permanent and affordable housing. 

“Many of our kids are receiving McKinney Vento transportation,” Gauger said, referencing the federal homeless assistance act. “So, they’re coming from a school that is not within our catchment area because that’s what’s best for their kids.” 

The suit states K.L. tried to meet with Gaston County district officials and school social workers to keep her kids at their same schools while she found affordable housing but was denied. The suit says K.L’s child was also kicked off the middle school cheer team.

Gauger says moving students mid-year could impact them academically and psychologically. 

“It can lead to an increase in behavioral problems within the school system,” Gauger said. “It can lead to poor outcomes academically, it can lead to repeated grades where they have to go back to the same grade and repeat the fifth grade again. That would then leave them without their friend group that they were with, it can lead to unfortunate health outcomes and mental health outcomes.” 

The lawsuit is asking for Gaston County Schools to let K.L.’s kids go back to their original schools as stated in the McKinney Vento Act and state law. Gauger says the district should get the issue ironed out because the number of children experiencing homelessness is increasing. 

“The trauma of losing your roof over your head is one thing, but to lose the classroom that you’re comfortable with, the teachers that you’re comfortable with, the friend group that you’re comfortable, with can be very traumatic as well,” Gauger said. 

Nexstar’s WJZY has reached out to Gaston County School for clarity on policies and procedures regarding students experiencing homelessness and a comment on the lawsuit, however, repeated attempts via email and phone were ignored. The lawsuit is asking the district and state leaders to let the students stay at their original schools. 

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