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New Jersey Sets Up an Office for Homeless Pupils

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New Jersey education officials say they will use a $129,619 grant from the federal government to create an office to address the educational needs of homeless children.

Commissioner of Education Saul A. Cooperman's announcement of the new office of education for homeless children and youth comes at a time when the number of such children in the state is expected to increase by some 15,000 to 20,000 as a result of a ruling by the state supreme court.

In a June decision, the high court limited to five months the amount of time that homeless families can receive public assistance to live in hotels.

Edward J. Doolan, director of the new office for the homeless, said the ruling has resulted in a sharp increase in homeless families.

He added that more children will be forced to leave their schools as their familes search for a new place to live.

"It's our responsibility to see that every homeless student must be in school, and there should be nothing to bar their immediate entrance," Mr. Doolan said.

Created with a grant under the federal Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act, the new office will be responsible for determining exactly how many of the state's school-age children are homeless, identifying where they live, and helping districts meet their educational needs.

One of his first priorities, Mr. Doolan said, will be to propose a change in the state's residency law, which now requires students to attend school in the district of their permanent residence.

Because homeless children move so frequently, they are often unable to prove the permanence of their address to new districts. These children are then kept out of school for weeks or months at a time while courts work out their placement,8Mr. Doolan said.

The McKinney Act stipulates that states that receive funds must develop a plan for revising residency laws to ensure that children are not barred from attending school because of their homelessness.

This summer, New York became the first state to successfully alter its residency law, easing the restrictions on school attendance by allowing homeless parents to choose where they will send their children to school.

Meanwhile in New Jersey, officials in the department of human services have designated several public buildings as emergency shelters for the growing number of homeless families.

According to Mr. Doolan, the shelters are clustered in two school districts where large numbers of homeless children are expected--Winslow Township in Camden County and Woodland Township in Burlington County.--lj

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