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Do I Need Guardianship of a Child To Enroll Them in School?

Updated on
April 5, 2021
Article written by
Eugene Nassif

There are many circumstances where parents are simply unable to take care of their children. The parents may have passed, be ill, or be struggling to the point that they are unable to provide for their children. When parents can’t take care of the children, family or friends often times step in. These children may have to leave their homes and live in new communities. This can be temporary and sometimes permanent. These “step in” or substitute parents may run into issues when they try to enroll the children in school. A school may tell them that they must get a guardianship over the children prior to being able to enroll them in school.  

In this article, we discuss the importance of Iowa guardianship laws, particularly in consideration of enrolling children in school. There are certain laws around what a guardian can and cannot do, and in this article, we discuss a few of these questions, including:

  • Is guardianship a good idea? 
  • Are there any concerns I should have with getting a guardianship? 
  • Can an Iowa school force me to become a guardian prior to enrolling a child in school? 
  • Where can I enroll the child that I am a guardian of in school? 
  • Are there any other legal protections for children living with substitute parents? 
  • Are there any alternatives to gaining a guardianship? 

Is guardianship a good idea? 

 

Guardianships are typically not meant for temporary situations. If you expect to be taking care of children for a significant enough period of time that they should be enrolled in school (months or longer), you need to strongly consider getting a guardianship. If neither parent is available to sign documents or give consent for medical treatment, getting a guardianship is especially important.  

 

Are there any concerns I should have with getting a guardianship? 

 

The biggest concern with guardianships are the responsibilities associated with them. It is not something to undergo if you are not prepared to take care of the children as if they were your own.   

 

Setting up a guardianship will require court action. The substitute parents will typically need a lawyer. If one or both of the parents object to guardianship, a trial will likely be needed to gain guardianship. These trials can be expensive and time consuming. If the parents and substitute parents do not get along, the process can be extremely difficult and taxing on everyone involved, including the children. 

As guardians, the substitute parents will need to file reports every year with the courts in order to continue the guardianship. Furthermore, the guardianship will continue until the court decides to end it.  

Can an Iowa school force me to become a guardian prior to enrolling a child in school? 

 

In short, the answer is no. Schools in Iowa cannot keep children out of school because the substitute parents did not obtain a guardianship. Whether the child lives with the biological parent or legal guardian does not matter.  

 

This is protected by both Iowa and Federal law, notably the McKinney Vento Homeless Assistance Act which protects the educational rights of children who experience homelessness or home insecurities. The act requires states to take steps to ensure that children are not delayed or prevented from enrolling in school. This is codified in Iowa Code §281-33.8(1). The laws do not require the substitute parents to establish a guardianship prior to the child being enrolled in school. 

 

Where can I enroll the child that I am a guardian of in school? 

 

Under state and federal law, a child who does not live with a parent or legal guardian is considered an “unaccompanied youth.” The law allows these children to attend school either where the child was last enrolled or where the child is actually living. This gives some flexibility, allowing a decision to be made that’s best for the child.  

 

Are there any other legal protections for children living with substitute parents? 

 

Prior to the McKinney Act, a federal court case, Horton v. Marshall Public Schools, established the legal right for children to go to school in the district their substitute parents were in. The case involved children living with substitute parents and a school district that barred the children from enrolling in school in the substitute parents’ district unless they became guardians of the children. The court ruled that this restriction violated the Constitution because it treated children differently for an arbitrary reason and was unfair to children facing these issues with their housing and home lives. This ruling remains binding in Iowa.  

 

Are there any alternatives to gaining a guardianship? 

 

If both of the biological parents are willing to sign a power of attorney, it may work as an alternative to a guardianship. A power of attorney gives someone the power to act on behalf of the parent. The biological parents retain their parental rights to the children. In situations where the parent is struggling but willing to cooperate, this method can work well. Additionally, only one biological parent needs to sign the power of attorney to grant the substitute parent these rights. 


Do I Need Guardianship of a Child To Enroll Them in School?
Author

Eugene Nassif

Eugene Nassif is an associate attorney in Des Moines, Iowa. His primary focus is in business and civil litigation matters.

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