Stability and Protections for Homeless Children
With the rising number of children being raised by non-parent caregivers due to the increase in drug addiction and incarceration of biological parents, educational legal protections are more important now than ever for students. Unfortunately, these children experience educational instability and as a result need additional supports and services in place. These protections are outlined in the McKinney-Vento Act.
The McKinney-Vento Act’s definition of “homelessness” includes children and youth who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence. This specifically includes children and youth who are: (1) sharing the housing of others due to loss of housing because of economic hardship or similar reason; (2) living in shelters, transitional housing, abandoned buildings, cars, motels, or campgrounds; and (3) Unaccompanied youth not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian.
Each local educational agency (LEA)/school district is to designate a liaison to assist students experiencing homelessness. The liaison’s duties include identifying homeless children and youth, assisting with school enrollment, and ensuring that he or she has an equal opportunity to succeed in school and preschool services. Additional duties are to ensure homeless children, youth, and families receive referrals to health, dental, mental health, housing, substance abuse, and other appropriate services.
A goal of McKinney-Vento is to ensure that homeless children and youth remain in their “school of origin” during the period of homelessness until the remainder of the academic year in which they obtain permanent house. It is presumed to be in the best interest of the student to remain in the school attending at the time of becoming homeless (“school of origin”) in order to avoid negative impacts on such things as the student’s achievement, attendance, and emotional well-being.
If a dispute arises between the LEA and the guardian of the student over school selection or enrollment, the student shall be enrolled immediately in the school in which the guardian seeks enrollment until the dispute can be resolved. In addition, an educational agency may not refuse to enroll a student identified as homeless simply because the student lacks the necessary documents for enrollment. Transportation is also to be provided to the school of origin until the end of the academic year when the student obtains permanent housing.
The LEA also must develop policies to remove barriers for enrolling and retaining homeless students in school. These barriers may include fees, fines, absences, accessing academic activities, and participating in extracurricular activities. Additional supports and services available under McKinney-Vento may include financial assistance with clothing, personal care items, school supplies, tutoring, and counseling. For homeless students preparing for college, the LEA liaison is to inform the student of their eligibility for financial aid and ensure that he or she receives verification.
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