Landmark Case

Penny Doe v. Richardson

Case Number


When a homeless African American teenager was denied admission to two separate schools in north Alabama in 1998, the Center sued on her behalf. The teenager had been refused admission to one school because of her homeless status and steered away from another because she is African American.

Two weeks later, barriers were dropped and Penny Doe, as she was called to protect her privacy, was enrolled at Guntersville High School.

The Center's class action claimed that the schools violated Doe's rights under the McKinney Act, a federal law designed to ensure homeless children equal access to public schools, as well as her rights under the 14th Amendment.

As part of the settlement agreement, the State Board of Education developed a state policy that complies with the requirements of the federal McKinney Act and ensures that local schools live up to their responsibility to educate homeless children. The local school board defendants also passed resolutions affirming their commitment to educating homeless school children.

The Doe lawsuit was part of a large effort by the Center to protect the rights of homeless children. In surveys funded by the Center, widespread evidence of possible McKinney Act violations were revealed in several states. Those violations included schools' failure to waive records requirement that pose barriers to the enrollment of homeless children and outright refused to admit homeless kids to the school.

The Center contacted state school boards and McKinney Act coordinators to make them aware of possible violations and their responsibilities under the Act.