Head Start considered a school

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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Teachers who work for a federally funded program to help children prepare for kindergarten are not eligible under Indiana statute for unemployment during summer breaks, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled today.

In South Bend Community School Corporation v. Linda D. Lucas, No. 93A02-0705-EX-387, the majority of judges agreed with South Bend that Head Start institutions should be considered schools under Indiana statute and therefore, its teachers are not allowed to collect unemployment during the summer.

Lucas works as a teacher at Head Start, which operates from August to June and is a federally funded program and public entity established pursuant to an agreement among 12 public school corporations. Head Start teachers work in classrooms located inside elementary schools and work with teachers of students in other grades to help create a smooth transition for students.

Lucas filed for unemployment insurance benefits during her 2006 summer break, and the Unemployment Insurance Review Board found she was eligible for the benefits because Head Start is not a "school" as defined by Indiana Code 22-4-2-37. Employees of schools are ineligible under Indiana statute to receive unemployment benefits during summer breaks.

South Bend schools appealed the decision, arguing Head Start programs should be considered schools under Indiana statute.

The interpretation of Indiana statute is key to the outcome of the appeal. The courts have decided when a court is faced with two reasonable interpretations of a statute - one of which is supplied by an agency in charge of enforcing the statute - the court should defer to the agency.

The judges examined the dictionary definitions of "educational institution," "school," and "institution," as well as the statutory definition of school.

Head Start is a consortium of 12 educational institutions, which operates in other educational institutions, and its academic calendar is identical to that of the schools responsible for its operation, wrote Chief Judge John Baker. Even though Head Start teachers are not paid during the summer break, their health benefits do continue.

"Inasmuch as Head Start is virtually identical to a school and is inextricably intertwined with the member public school corporations, we can only conclude that the legislature intended that Head Start be treated as an educational institution for the purpose of unemployment compensation," he wrote. He was joined in the decision by Judge John Sharpnack.

In addition, the purpose of the Unemployment Act is to provide funds for people who become involuntarily unemployed because of adverse business and industrial conditions. The Court of Appeals had previously determined this did not include teachers on their summer breaks. There is no evidence Lucas was involuntarily underemployed by adverse business conditions, Chief Judge Baker wrote, and for Lucas to receive benefits would create a windfall. He reversed the lower court decision.

In a separate dissenting opinion, Judge Patricia Riley agreed with the Review Board's decision finding Head Start not to be an educational institution or school. She points out subsection 5 of I.C. Section 22-4-2-37, which states that "school" does not include "an organization offering preschool training, not part of the public or parochial school system." Head Start is not accredited by the Indiana State Board and is federally funded. It is a preschool program for both education and social development.

Judge Riley also wrote that as the majority of judges pointed out in their opinion, the quoted standard of review is to defer to the agency when the court is faced with two reasonable interpretations of a statute. She believes the majority reached the wrong result and would affirm the Review Board's decision.

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  1. I have an open CHINS case I failed a urine screen I have since got clean completed IOP classes now in after care passed home inspection my x sister in law has my children I still don't even have unsupervised when I have been clean for over 4 months my x sister wants to keep the lids for good n has my case working with her I just discovered n have proof that at one of my hearing dcs case worker stated in court to the judge that a screen was dirty which caused me not to have unsupervised this was at the beginning two weeks after my initial screen I thought the weed could have still been in my system was upset because they were suppose to check levels n see if it was going down since this was only a few weeks after initial instead they said dirty I recently requested all of my screens from redwood because I take prescriptions that will show up n I was having my doctor look at levels to verify that matched what I was prescripted because dcs case worker accused me of abuseing when I got my screens I found out that screen I took that dcs case worker stated in court to judge that caused me to not get granted unsupervised was actually negative what can I do about this this is a serious issue saying a parent failed a screen in court to judge when they didn't please advise

  2. I have a degree at law, recent MS in regulatory studies. Licensed in KS, admitted b4 S& 7th circuit, but not to Indiana bar due to political correctness. Blacklisted, nearly unemployable due to hostile state action. Big Idea: Headwinds can overcome, esp for those not within the contours of the bell curve, the Lego Movie happiness set forth above. That said, even without the blacklisting for holding ideas unacceptable to the Glorious State, I think the idea presented above that a law degree open many vistas other than being a galley slave to elitist lawyers is pretty much laughable. (Did the law professors of Indiana pay for this to be published?)

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  4. Joe, you might want to do some reading on the fate of Hoosier whistleblowers before you get your expectations raised up.

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