Stephenie's story

When Stephenie Bullock found her family evicted from their Montgomery County home of twenty years and her four school-aged sons barred from returning to their Montgomery County schools because of their lack of residence, surrender was nowhere in her thoughts. What was in her mind was fighting for what her sons wanted most, which was to stay in the schools they had grown up in among their friends and support systems.

Months of a letter writing campaign waged by her family did not induce Montgomery County to readmit Stephenie’s sons. Stephenie was ardent that her children be involved in their own struggle and that exclusion from school was no excuse to stop learning.
 
Seven days a week Stephenie would collect her children and bus fare—sometimes “putting pennies together” to do so—and travel from a temporary residence in the District of Columbia to the Wheaton Public Library in Montgomery County where they would spend the day studying, reading and writing letters.
 
Stephenie’s dogged resolve paid off when her search led her to the Public Justice Center, whose attorneys advised her that the law was on her side. Under the McKinney-Vento Act, a homeless child cannot be denied enrollment in school due to lack of residence. In fact, homeless students are guaranteed immediate enrollment, even if they lack fees and records. The PJC first attempted to assert the family’s rights through informal negotiations with the school system. When those efforts were ultimately unsuccessful, the result was a class action suit on behalf of all homeless students, with Stephenie and her eldest son, Brandon, as lead plaintiffs. The suit ended in a settlement, pursuant to which Montgomery County Public Schools made significant and systematic improvements in policies, procedures, and practices for serving homeless students in the school district.
 
After their victory, Brandon returned to school seven months behind his classmates. Demonstrating he had learned his mother’s lesson of hard work and determination, Brandon attended summer school, night school and school on the weekends to graduate with his class. Brandon even earned the Montgomery County Technology Award for Excellence in Entrepreneurship and is currently in his second year at Montgomery College. Brandon plans to earn a Business Administration degree and pour all his education and energy into an event-coordination business he started when he was seventeen.
 
Brandon's story is not the only one with a happy ending; because Montgomery County Public Schools overhauled its approach to identifying, enrolling, and serving homeless students, others in his position have also been able to stay stable in school and achieve their academic dreams.
 
*This story was written in 2005. Since then, Brandon has graduated from Morgan  State University with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. His brother, Morgan, has also graduated from college, from Bowie State University with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology.
 
Photo of Morgan Haynes and his family at his college graduation
Morgan Haynes' graduation. Photo courtesy of Stephenie Bullock.