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Federal program sends Gabby back to Lincoln classmates

Beaverton rules blocked transfer, but Portland offered help


Gabrielle Van Steenberg was treated to a rock star’s reception on Monday upon her return to Lincoln High School.

The junior drama student — whose enrollment situation was the subject of a Sept. 20 Portland Tribune article — was given the green light to return to Lincoln through a little-known program for Portland Public Schools’ homeless students, called Title X.

Marti Heard, one of the program’s “community agents,” saw the article shortly after it ran and emailed the family Friday; Gabby was able to register at Lincoln in time for classes on Monday.

“Portland Public Schools was very responsive to us; it was just a matter of getting the right person to help us,” says Monica Van Steenberg, Gabby’s mother, who advocated for her daughter through a “Free Gabby” Facebook campaign over the summer.

After hearing from Heard, Van Steenberg wasn’t sure Gabby’s situation qualified, but was assured that it did.

The family’s apartment had been rented to another family, forcing them to move in three weeks during the summer. After landing an apartment in the Beaverton School District, Beaverton denied Gabby’s transfer request to leave the district and did not allow any hardship appeal, which frustrated her family.

Gabby started the school year at Sunset High School, but longed for the continuity of her friends, teachers and the offerings at Lincoln, since she’d moved so much as a child due to her family’s housing circumstances.

Title X, a federally funded program, exists to help students whose housing situations are threatened.

One of the rights of homeless students, as protected by the Homeless Student Program, is for students to continue in the school that they last attended before becoming homeless.

Van Steenberg says she’s grateful for the public support during the whole process, and plans to speak out further against the new state law that put her daughter in enrollment limbo. The law tries to balance enrollment across seven Washington County districts.

“The Beaverton rule was supposed to benefit students, help them go to school where they want to,” she says. “But districts are no longer able to negotiate their own agreements. I think they should understand it’s not working the way they want it to work.”