Policies and practices to anchor highly mobile students
Senate Bill 532 expands and strengthens exemptions available to obtain a diploma
close up of a little girl at a food gathering, holding a plate and standing in front of a woman
Many educators and board members are passionate about helping students who are most in need. The challenges faced by highly mobile students — including foster youth, students experiencing homelessness, former juvenile court school students, children of military families, migrant students or newly arrived immigrant students — participating in a newcomer program can tug at anyone’s heartstrings.

These students often face some barriers to high school graduation, many of which are caused by lack of a stable community. For example, many foster students move from home to home, causing them to miss tests, fail classes and lose credits. In some instances, this instability can cause students to fall behind and lose hope of graduating high school. Similarly, it is not uncommon for the mobility involved in migrant work to cause students to fall behind. In the past, districts had little flexibility in finding ways to keep these students engaged in school and working toward a diploma.

In 2022, however, Senate Bill 532 revised Education Code 51225.1 to expand and strengthen the exemptions available to highly mobile student populations. In addition to allowing these students to graduate without completing local graduation requirements that go beyond statewide course requirements, this bill grants eligible students the option to complete a fifth year of high school in order to complete graduation requirements. This extra year could be used to complete credits necessary to graduate or complete exempted courses to maximize college and career opportunities. Highly mobile students are at risk of missing out on valuable learning opportunities; SB 532 gives districts increased flexibility to help these students, so any learning lost in moving isn’t compounded by preventing them from obtaining a diploma.

Additionally, other new provisions added by SB 532 increase the power of student and family voice by requiring districts to consult with the student and family, educating them on their options and how each option may impact future college and career opportunities. This bill aims to empower students and families by providing them with the sole discretion whether to accept the exemption, based on what is in the student’s best educational interests.

To minimize the potential negative impacts that moving and transferring schools can have on students, SB 532 also requires districts to provide greater detail in the student’s transcript when a student from one of these populations transfers out of their district. This new requirement aims to minimize the impact of transferring schools by detailing information such as partial credits, days of enrollment, seat time and partial coursework completed. By providing the student’s new school with as much information as possible, it will be better equipped to ensure highly mobile students are getting credits for completed work and placed in the right courses to continue progress toward graduation.

District homeless and foster youth liaisons serve as a central point of support providing advocacy and resources for students. Assembly Bill 408, which added Education Code 48851.3, requires district homeless liaisons to offer professional development to staff about the district’s homeless education program policies, the availability of training and services offered by the liaison, and how to recognize signs that students may be experiencing, or are at risk of experiencing, homelessness.

All of these changes are aimed at minimizing disruptions to learning caused when students are forced to repeatedly move. Beyond the academic impact, changing schools can also take a heavy emotional, social and psychological toll. Transferring schools often means the loss of friends, family and trusted teachers. Repeated moves can create instability in a child’s life that is compounded by feelings of isolation and rejection that can accompany starting at a new school.

Schools that successfully support highly mobile student populations utilize welcoming orientations, mentorship, peer guides, counseling, access to extracurricular opportunities including athletics, and other community-building activities to provide newly enrolled students maximum opportunities to become a welcomed and valued member of their new learning community. In contrast, when these extra efforts are not made, the feelings of loss and isolation may lead to increased problem behavior, absenteeism and low engagement, ultimately driving some vulnerable students to unhealthy behaviors such as violence, drug abuse and dropping out of school.

CSBA recently revised sample Board Policy 6146.1 – High School Graduation Requirements, 6173 – Education for Homeless Children and 6173.1 – Education for Foster Youth to reflect the changes specified in SB 532 and AB 405, making now a good time to discuss how your district or county office of education policies can support highly mobile students.

Additional resources
  • U.S. Department of Education’s Education for Homeless Children and Youths Program Nonregulatory Guidance: bit.ly/3TfO1i4
  • California Department of Education resource page for Homeless Children and Youth: www.cde.ca.gov/sp/hs/cy
  • Alliance for Children’s Rights Best Practice Guide for Improving Outcomes for Youth in Foster Care: bit.ly/3JoCB7k