Educational rights of students in homeless situations
The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, a federal law that was reauthorized in January 2002, ensures educational rights and protections for children and youth experiencing the many aspects of homelessness. The Elmira City School District is providing an explanation of the legislation and strategies for implementing them in our school district.
Children in many different living situations are considered homeless under federal law
Homelessness is a lack of permanent housing resulting from extreme poverty or from the the lack of a safe and stable living environment. Children and youth in homeless situations often do not fit society's stereotypical images of homelessness. Therefore, educators may not realize the breadth of students who are considered homeless under the McKinney-Vento Act and as such quality for its protection and services The McKinney-Vento Act contains a specific definition of homelessness that includes a broad array of inadequate living situations.
Federal law requires districts to provide educational stability for homeless students
Changing schools greatly impedes students' academic and social growth. Highly mobile students, including students who are homeless, have also been found to have lower test scores and overall academic performance than peers who do not change schools. Therefore, the McKinney-Vento Act:
- Requires local educational agencies (LEAs) such as the Elmira City School District, to keep homeless students in their schools or origin, to the extent feasible, unless it is against the parent or guardian's wishes. Students are also permitted to remain in their schools of origin for the duration of their homelessness and until the end of any academic year in which they move into permanent housing.
- Requires LEAs to provide transportation to the school of origin, at the request of the parent or guardian, or, in the case of an unaccompanied youth, at the request of the district's homeless liaison.
- Requires that state and LEAs develop, review and revise their policies to remove barriers to the enrollment and retention of children and youth in homeless situations.
These provisions will result in educational stability that will enhance students' academic and social growth. This student continuity will also allow schools to increase test scores and student achievement.
The federal definition of homelessness
The term "homeless children and youth:
- means individuals who lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence, and
- includes -
- children and youths who are sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason; are are living in motels, hotels, trailer parks or camping grounds due to the lack of alternative accommodations; are living in emergency or transition shelters; are abandoned in hospitals, or are awaiting foster care placement;
- children and youths who have a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings ...
- children and youths who are living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations, or similar settings, and
- migratory children who qualify as homeless for the purposes of this subtitle because because the children are living in circumstances described in clauses above.
Federal law requires districts to provide immediate school access for homeless students
Parents or guardians who are homeless may chose to enroll their children in the public school in the attendance area where they are living or where they were living. Or, if you are a homeless teen, you may chose to enroll yourself at the school where you were living, or switch to where you are now living.
Families and youth experiencing homelessness often do not have the documentation ordinarily required for school enrollment. Because of this, the McKinney-Vento Act:
- Requires local education agencies, such as the Elmira City School District, to immediately enroll students in homeless situation, even if they don't have the required documentation. These include school records, medical records, proof of residency and other documentation.
- Requires enrolling schools to obtain school records from previous schools. Students must be enrolled in school while the records are being obtained.
- Requires the school district's homeless liaison to immediately assist in obtaining immunizations or medication records for students who don't have them. Students must be enrolled in school in the meantime.
- Requires a school to provide a written explanation of its decision and the right to appeal if a student is sent to a school other than that requested by the parent or guardian.
Federal law requires districts to appoint a liaison for homeless students
Liaisons are school district staff members responsible for ensuring the identification, school enrollment, attendance and opportunities for academic success of students in homeless situations. Some of these roles may be accomplished by the liaison, and others may be delegated to other school district staff members. By linking students and their families to school and community services, liaisons play a critical role in stabilizing students and promoting academic achievement. Therefore, the McKinney-Vento Act:
- Requires school district liaisons to designate an appropriate staff person as an advocate for students in homeless situations.
- Requires liaisons to ensure that homeless children and youth are identified, that they be enrolled in, and have full and equal opportunity to succeed in the schools. This includes programs they may be eligible for such as Head Start, Even Start, Pre-Kindergarten, as well as referrals to health, mental health, dental and other appropriate services.
- Requires liaisons to provide information about the rights of homeless students to those who qualify.
- Also requires liaisons to ensure that parents or guardians are informed of education and related opportunities for their child or children, including the right to transportation, including to the school of origin.
Federal law requires districts to serve homeless students with Title I funds
Title I, Part A targets students at the most risk of failing in school, and this includes students dealing with homelessness. While many in this situation are impeded by persistent poverty, students experiencing homelessness have specific needs with respect to school enrollment, attendance and the supports that make academic achievement possible. Therefore, under the recent reauthorized Title I statute:
- A child or youth is homeless and is attending any school in the district is automatically eligible for Title I services, regardless of their current academic performance.
- The Elmira City School District must set aside funds to provide services comparable to those provided to children in Title I, Part A, funded schools to serve homeless children. This includes educationally-related support services where homeless children may live, such as shelters.
- A school district may receive funding under Title I, Part A, only if the lead education agency has on file with the State Educational Agency that is coordinated with the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.
- Each school district Title I plan must include a description of the services that will be provided to homeless children, including services provided with funds from the reserved funds.