Legislation was signed earlier this week to better help at-risk youth in Oklahoma public schools. Senate Bill 632, by Sen. Ron Sharp and Rep. Katie Henke, creates the “Education Compact for Kids in State Care” and ensures children placed in the care of the Oklahoma Office of Juvenile Affairs (OJA) or the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (OKDHS) do not have their education interrupted by their personal circumstances.
“I’m pleased to see this important bill signed into law. Too many of Oklahoma’s youth are living in turmoil having to deal with abuse, neglect, addiction, parents who simply don’t care about their well-being or other problems in the home,” said Sharp, R-Shawnee. “We have not only a legal responsibility but a moral one to help these kids. So many social ills such as poverty, abuse, teen pregnancy and crime are part of a vicious cycle started by the parents but it’s proven that if you can help at-risk youth graduate from high school, their odds of breaking that cycle and becoming a productive member of society are much greater.”
The bill streamlines the process for the timely transfer and/or enrollment of students who have been placed in state care, including the timely delivery of temporary and permanent student records in accordance with the foster care state plan developed by the State Department of Education (SDE) in collaboration with DHS as required by federal law. Additionally, it establishes the Education Compact for Students in State Care Advisory Committee that will be comprised of three members: one member each from SDE, OJA and DHS.
It specifies that a power of attorney issued pursuant to Title 10 of the Oklahoma Statutes and an out-of-home care placement agreement executed on a form provided by DHS are sufficient documents for the purposes of enrollment. It provides a timeline for students to obtain the necessary immunizations for school attendance and provides that upon enrollment the receiving school must verbally notify the parent, legal guardian, or legal custodian of a student about the immunization exemptions provided for in Title 70 of the Oklahoma Statutes.
Students who are placed in state care during the ninth through twelfth grades will be automatically enrolled in the core curriculum, but students who are enrolled in the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program (OHLAP) must be given the opportunity to complete the program’s curriculum requirements.
SB 632 was requested by OJA. Executive Director Steve Buck said the bill promotes flexibility and cooperation between the educational system, parents/guardians and the study in order to achieve educational success for at-risk youth.
“This bill reflects the collaboration of OJA, OKDHS as well as input from OKSDE and local school districts to help at-risk youth achieve their academic goals. So often, youth in state care are forced to change schools and experience unfortunate uncertainties,” said Buck. “With this bill, we are able to work with school districts and other state agencies to ensure the transition to school is completed with ease and the requirements for graduation are consistent, two important factors that contribute to a child graduating from high school and being a successful adult."
The new law will go into effect November 1, 2017.