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Issue Alert - UPDATED Issue Alert 12-10-01

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Date:

Oct 10, 2012

Program Area:

Family Independence Program (FIP)

Issue Summary:

New School Attendance Policy and Full Family Sanctions - DHS policy effective 10-1-12 requires full-time school attendance by both dependent children and minor parents for continued eligibility for FIP. If FIP is terminated due to inadequate school enrollment or attendance, reinstatement will not occur until the student attends 21 consecutive days of school.

Persons Affected:

All FIP groups with dependent children between ages of 6 and 17 or with a child age 18 and attending school.

For More Information:

Center for Civil Justice 320 S. Washington, 2nd Floor Saginaw, MI 48607 (989) 755-3120, (800)724-7441 Fax: (989) 755-3558 E-mail: info@ccj-mi.org

Michigan Poverty Law Program 611 Church Street, Suite 4A Ann Arbor, MI 48104-3000 (734) 998-6100 (734) 998-9125 Fax lruby@lsscm.org


Background

DHS has published its new policy that requires dependent children in a FIP group between ages 6 and 15 to be attending school full-time in order for the family to maintain its FIP eligibility. The policy was effective and published on October 1, 2012. Most of the changes are to BEM 245, School Attendance and Student Status, but there are some minor changes to BEM 201, Minor Parents, and BEM 240, Age. The policy change is also discussed in Bridges Policy Bulletins BPB 2012-016 and BPB 2012-017, both dated and published on October 1, 2012.

Before October 1, 2012, BEM 245 only required school attendance for dependent children age 16-18 and minor parents who had not graduated from high school. These older teens and minor parents (and the minor parents’ child(ren)) were removed from the FIP grant if they failed to attend school. If the FIP group includes other children, the rest of the group continues to receive FIP. The policy for these groups remains largely the same.

What's Happening?

SCHOOL ATTENDANCE REQUIREMENT AND FULL FAMILY PENALTY

The new BEM 245 (School Attendance and Student Status) and 240 (Age) require full-time school attendance for children age 6 through 15.  FIP stops for the entire FIP group if a child age 6 through 15 does not attend school full-time.  The chart below lists requirements and consequences for different student age groups and for minor parents.  If a child aged 6 through 15 does not attend school full-time, the entire FIP group remains ineligible until DHS receives verification that the child has attended school full-time for 21 consecutive calendar days.  This penalty is much more severe than the ineligibility that results for children age 16 and over and for minor parents.  The policy language for children age 16 and over and minor parents is basically unchanged in the new policy issued October 1, 2012 (i.e., they are removed from the FIP grant if they fail to attend school). 

 

Age of dependent child

Consequence for non-attendance

Verification

To regain FIP eligibility

6-15

The entire FIP group is not eligible to receive FIP

Verify school enrollment and attendance at application and redetermination

Verification required that child has attended school full-time for 21 consecutive days

(Policy is unclear if or when re-application is required)

16-17

The dependent child is disqualified from the FIP group

Note:  A child graduated from high school is not required to attend a work participation program

Verify school enrollment and attendance at application, recertification, and each birthday

Verification required that child has attended school full-time for 21 consecutive days

18  (must be expected to graduate from high school before age 19)

Is not eligible as part of the FIP group

 

Verify school enrollment and attendance at application, recertification and each birthday

Verification required that child has attended school full-time for 21 consecutive days

Minor Parent under age 18

The minor parent and his/her dependent child(ren) are disqualified

 

Verify school enrollment and attendance at application, recertification and each birthday

Reapplication and verification required that minor parent has attended school full-time for 21 consecutive days

(BEM 201)


WHAT IS SCHOOL?

“School” is defined in BEM 245, page 1, as “a public school, a nonpublic school registered with the Michigan Department of Education or a home school.  High school is a course of study leading to a high school diploma or its equivalency and includes adult basic education (ABE), alternative education, charter school, general education development (GED), home school, non-public school and vocational or technical training.  Correspondence and web-based courses that are administered by a school or used as part of a home school curriculum are acceptable.”  The policy goes on to state “Home schooling is acceptable if it is part of an organized educational program which includes specific educational subject areas of reading, spelling, mathematics, science, history, civics, literature, writing, and English grammar.  The parent is responsible for assigning homework, giving and grading tests, with a diploma issued by the parent if the schooling continues through grade 12.  Parents are encouraged to maintain student records of progress and there are no state-required tests, but the parent is responsible for administering tests based upon the curriculum they use.  Registration of home schools with the MDE is not mandatory.  A parent is not required to inform the local school of the decision to home school.  However, failure to inform the local school may result in the student being marked absent and reported to a truancy officer.  Notification can be accomplished by phone call or a written note to the district.” 

 

WHAT IS “ATTENDING SCHOOL FULLTIME”?

The new policy does not define or set standards for enrollment and attendance.  That is left up to local school districts and schools (including home schools) and could yield very inconsistent results.  BEM 245 page 4 states that schools determine the level of enrollment by a child (such as full-time, half-time, or part -time), attendance compliance and suspensions (such as reasons for or duration). DHS will “consider a dependent child as still meeting the school attendance requirement during official school vacations or periods of extended illness, unless information is provided by the client that the dependent child does not intend to return to school.” BEM 245 p. 2.

 

VERIFICATION

Enrollment and attendance must be verified at application, annual redetermination, and -  beginning at age 16 - on the child’s birthday.  In general, enrollment and attendance are verified by form DHS 3380 or telephone contact with the school.  (More extensive verification is needed for home schools, as outlined at BEM 245 p.7.)  The form DHS 3380 available online simply includes check boxes for the school to indicate the level of enrollment and whether the child is “attending regularly,” “attending sometimes,” or “not attending.”  This form does not appear to have been modified in any way for younger students.  BEM 245 says the DHS 3380 is automatically sent by Bridges at the child’s birthday, beginning at age 16.  Apparently caseworkers must manually issue the form at application and recertification.

 

REFERRALS TO CHILD PROTECTIVE SERVICES AND TRUANCY OFFICIALS

The Policy as issued on October 1, 2012 says:  A referral must be made to the local Intermediate School District’s Attendance Officer if it is verified a dependent child age 6 to 17 is not enrolled/attending a public school or is not participating in an organized education program. . . A referral may be made to child protective services if it is verified a dependent child age 6 to 17 is not enrolled/attending a public school or is not participating in an organized education program and the case worker suspects other forms of child abuse and neglect.”   This is changed slightly from the Bridges Policy Bulletin (BPB 2012-016) issued by DHS prior to October 1, 2012, and which was referenced in a prior version of this issue alert,  which required a CPS referral in all cases of non-attendance. 

 

GETTING FIP BACK AFTER DISQUALIFICATION FOR FAILURE TO ATTEND SCHOOL

The policy does not say when and how benefits will be calculated and reinstated when a child or minor parent has attended school for the 21-day period.  BEM 201 clearly states a minor parent must reapply to receive FIP again after being disqualified for failure to attend school.  But DHS policy does not say whether other FIP groups affected by the new policy must reapply. 

 

BEM 245 page 6 requires verification of enrollment for the following school year  prior to FIP eligibility “[i]f the mandatory 21 calendar day attendance requirement is [met] during summer break.”  It also requires verification of the child’s fulltime attendance once that school year begins. 

 

OTHER UNANSWERED QUESTIONS

There a number of other practical questions that have not been answered at this time:

  • How does the policy accommodate the special needs and attendance issues of children with disabilities?
  • What is required of a parent who cannot receive paid childcare (because the child is 13 or older) but whose job requires them to leave home before the child leaves for school, which may interfere with the parent’s ability to ensure school attendance?
  • Will parents be able to obtain necessary verifications during the summer months when schools are closed?
  • Will failure to attend by a child who is not receiving FIP because he or she is a foster care or SSI recipient result in penalties to the FIP group?

 

There are a number of questions about the legality or validity of the policy as adopted and as it is being applied.  In addition, notices that have been sent to FIP recipients telling them their FIP is being terminated based on the new policy appear to be legally inadequate.  DHS has been asked not to close any FIP cases until adequate notices are sent and the policy is lawfully applied.

What Should Advocates Do?

1.    Educate clients and community organizations about this change.  A community education flyer is available on CCJ’s website, www.ccj-mi.org.  Encourage families to talk to their child’s school to find out what criteria is used to evaluate school attendance and to verify how many absences are on the child’s record.  

2.    Provide information to CCJ about families that are being harmed by the policy.  Please call CCJ at the number at the top of this form, to find out how to communicate this information to CCJ rather than simply refer clients to us directly.

3.    Help clients get verifications needed to show school attendance.

Help clients request and present information at administrative hearings when appropriate  to contest notices of termination.

What Should Clients Do?

1.   Ask your school about its attendance policies and at what point the school will notify parents about a problem with attendance.  Make sure that your child’s records accurately show attendance and absences.  

2.   Contact your child’s school any time your child has to miss class and has a good reason to miss school.  Keep copies of any papers that help prove the reason (like medical appointments).   Keep a calendar with notes on the phone calls you make.  Send a note to the school if your child has an excuse for being absent, and keep a copy of it.

3.   Turn in verification about school attendance or reasons for absences when you are asked to do so by DHS.  Do not ignore these requests  and make sure you understand when it is due.  Keep a record of how and when you submitted the completed form to DHS.

4.   Ask your caseworker for help if you do not understand what information is needed or if there is not enough time to get the form filled out between when you received it and when it is due.   If you cannot reach the caseworker, contact the supervisor.

5.   Keep envelopes that your verification checklist letter comes in so you know the date it was actually mailed.

6.   Seek legal advice if you are told your cash assistance benefits are going to be terminated due to student enrollment or attendance issues.  

7.   Read your notices carefully.  If your FIP is ending, you have the right to request a hearing.  If DHS receives your hearing request within the deadline given in your notice, you will continue to receive FIP at your current level (but if you lose, will owe DHS any assistance you were not entitled to).  Seek legal help if you request a hearing.

If you want to regain FIP based on a child attending school for a 21 calendar day period, re-apply to preserve your rights. 

Finding Help

Most legal aid and legal services offices handle these types of cases, and they do not charge a fee.  You can locate the “free” legal services or legal aid office that serves your county on the Michigan Legal Help Web Site http://www.michiganlegalhelp.org/ or look in the yellow pages under “attorneys” or call the toll-free lawyer referral number, (800) 968-0738.