Ensuring Educational Stability for Homeless Children and Youth An Overview of the McKinney-Vento Act and Advocacy Strategies for Keeping Homeless and Displaced Students in School Sarah Biehl, Ohio Poverty Law Center/Ohio State Legal Services Association Melissa Will, Southeastern Ohio Legal Services
Today’s Agenda • A Growing Problem • Barriers to Education for Homeless Children • McKinney-Vento Act • Who are Homeless Children and Youth? • McKinney-Vento Personnel • Educational Rights of Homeless Children • Focus on School Stability • Removing Barriers • Advocacy Strategies/Tips
A Growing Problem The number of public school students who are homeless is increasing.* • 17% increase in homeless students in Ohio last year • News organizations note an “alarming” rise in homeless students in Michigan * Number of homeless Ohio students jumps: 17 percent increase to 9,396 sets state record, http://www.toledoblade.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20081219/NEWS04/812190345/-1/NEWS Economy in Crisis: Homeless Students on The Rise in Northern Michigan, http://www.9and10news.com/category/story/?id=143855 Educators See Spike in Number of Homeless Students, http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,489865,00.html In Tough Times, Ranks of Homeless Students Rising: School districts find unprecedented increase in numbers of homeless students across US, http://abcnews.go.com/US/WireStory?id=6497841&page=3
Barriers to Education for Homeless Children • Enrollment requirements (school records, health records, proof of residence and guardianship) • High mobility resulting in lack of school stability and educational continuity • Lack of transportation • Lack of school supplies, clothing, etc. • Poor health, fatigue, hunger, anxiety/trauma • Invisibility (lack of awareness) • Prejudice and misunderstanding • For unaccompanied youth: lack of adult guardian; need for employment; credit accrual policies; concerns of capture by authorities Source: National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth, www.naehcy.org
McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act • Title X, Part C of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (which is up for reauthorization this year) • 42 U.S.C. § 11431 et. seq. • 34 C.F.R. Part 200 • Main Themes: • School stability • School access • Support for academic success • Child-centered, best interest decision making
Who Are Homeless Children and Youth? Must meet the McKinney-Vento definition of homeless: Children and youth wholack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence, including: • *Sharing the housing of others due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or similar reason (“doubled up”) • Living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, camping grounds due to lack of adequate alternative accommodations • Living in emergency or transitional shelters • Abandoned in hospitals • Awaiting foster care placement • Living in a public or private place not designed for humans to live • Living in cars, parks, abandoned buildings, bus or train stations, etc. • Migratory children living in above circumstances 42 U.S.C. § 11434a(2)
Who Are Homeless Children and Youth? • NOTE! The McKinney-Vento definition of homelessness is broader and more inclusive than the HUD definition (42 U.S.C. § 11302(a)). • McKinney-Vento does not specify an age range but applies to all school-aged children and youth (as defined by state law); typically states allow youth to attend school up to the age of 21
McKinney-Vento Personnel • Every State Education Agency has an Office of State Coordinator for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth • Collaboration responsibilities across agencies and with communities • Technical assistance to LEAs • Compliance • Professional development • Data collection and reporting 42 U.S.C. § 11432(d)(3)
McKinney-Vento Personnel Every Local Education Agency (school district) must designate a liaison for students in homeless situations • Responsibilities: • Ensure that children and youth in homeless situations are identified through school and community • Ensure that homeless students enroll in and have full and equal opportunity to succeed in school • Make referrals for health, mental health, and other services, and ensure that homeless children receive Head Start and preschool programs administered by school districts 42 U.S.C. § 11432(g)(6)(A)
McKinney-Vento Personnel Local Liaison Responsibilities (Cont.): • Inform parents, guardians, and youth of educational and parent involvement opportunities • Post public notice of educational rights • Resolve disputes • Inform parents, guardians, and youth of transportation services, including to the school of origin • Collaborate and coordinate with community and school personnel
Educational Rights of Homeless Children • Broad mandate for all school districts to remove barriers to school enrollment and retention by revising policies and practices • Remain in the school of origin (if in best interest) • Transportation to the school of origin • Immediate enrollment • Access to programs and services • Access to dispute resolution procedures See 42 U.S.C. § 11432(g)(1)(H)-(J)
Focus on School Stability • Students can stay in their school of origin for the duration of homelessness and until the end of the school year when they find permanent housing, as long as that is in their best interests. • “School of origin” is the school attended when permanently housed or in which last enrolled (42 U.S.C. § 11432(g)(3)(G)). • “Best interests” generally means keeping homeless students in their schools of origin, to the extent “feasible,” unless this is against the parents/guardians’ wishes (42 U.S.C. § 11432(g)(3)(B)).
Focus on School Stability • Students can also choose to attend the local school where they are currently staying (any school others living in the same area are eligible to attend) • Regardless of whether the student chooses to stay in the school of origin or enroll inhis/her local school, the student must be enrolled immediately (42 U.S.C. § 11432(g)(3)(C)).
Removing Barriers • School districts may not refuse to enroll homeless children because they lack required documents such as proof of residence, guardianship paperwork, school records, health records, etc. (42 U.S.C. § 11432(g)(3)(C)(i)). • If a student does not have immunization records, the liaison must assist immediately in obtaining them, and the student must be enrolled in the interim (42 U.S.C. § 11432(g)(3)(C)(iii)).
Removing Barriers If a dispute arises over school selection or enrollment in school: • The child must be immediately admitted into the school in which enrollment is sought • The school must provide the student/parents a written explanation of the school’s enrollment decision, along with their rights to appeal that decision • The child and her/his parents must be immediately referred to the district’s liaison to begin the dispute resolution process 42 U.S.C. § 11432(g)(3)(E)
Removing Barriers • The school district must provide students in homeless situations with services comparable to those provided to other students, including: • Transportation • Vocational and technical education • School nutrition programs • Gifted and talented programs. 42 U.S.C. § 11432(g)(4)(A)
Removing Barriers Transportation – • School districts are required to provide transportation in 3 situations: • Must provide transportation to school of origin upon request of parent or guardian. • For transportation to school other than school of origin, must provide transportation comparable to that provided to other students in district. • If transportation is a barrier to enrollment or retention, school must eliminate that barrier. See 42 U.S.C. § 11432(g)(1)(J); (g)(4)(A); (g)(1)(I); (g)(7).
Advocacy Strategies • Know the broad McKinney-Vento definition of homelessness and be on the lookout for clients whose children could benefit from the law. • Help educate other attorneys in your office about McKinney-Vento – often clients in other types of cases have children who could benefit, especially in divorce cases, foreclosure, eviction, public benefits cases. • Help educate your client community about McKinney-Vento’s benefits for homeless children. • Know the liaisons in the districts in your region.
Advocacy Strategies • Some districts – generally, larger urban districts – have “funded” McKinney-Vento liaisons. This means their positions are funded by the federal government and their full-time job is to be the homeless liaison for that district. They are generally better trained and more knowledgeable. • Most districts do NOT have funded liaisons. Many districts simply designate the superintendent or a principal as their liaison. • Lots of unfunded liaisons don’t even know they are the liaison! • You can and should educate the district’s liaison about his/her legal responsibilities under McKinney-Vento.
Advocacy Strategies • Many funded liaisons help coordinate trainings for unfunded liaisons in the districts in their region – offer to help with the trainings to liaisons and others. • Conversely, get to know the funded liaisons in your service area and see if you can get them to call or reach out to the unfunded liaison in the district in which your client is having trouble.
Advocacy Strategies • Remember that parents and students are entitled to a written explanation of why a school district is refusing to enroll a homeless child in a particular school – often a lawyer asking for that written explanation is enough to get a child enrolled and end the dispute. • Get a copy of your state’s dispute resolution process. • Dispute resolution processes require that the parties make an effort to resolve the dispute at the district level before involving the state coordinator, but it often doesn’t hurt to call your state coordinator if he or she is good/helpful, especially for repeated problems with the same school district.
Advocacy Strategies • Final option: file a federal lawsuit to force the district to comply with McKinney-Vento. • Liability is based on negligence – a failure to exercise reasonable care in following the federal law and providing appropriate services. • Look at the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty website (www.nlchp.org) – it has lots of info about pending and decided McKinney-Vento cases, many of which are not reported on Westlaw or Lexis.
Advocacy: What about unaccompanied youth? Unaccompanied youth are often a particular challenge. • Liaisons must help unaccompanied youth choose and enroll in school, after considering the youth’s wishes and informing the youth of his/her appeal rights. • School personnel should be made aware of specific needs of runaway and other unaccompanied youth. • Schools are not required to allow unaccompanied minors to sign their own forms and documents (for example, for field trips, etc.), but they can. • Options include letting the youth make his/her own decisions, letting the local liaison make the decisions, issuing “caregiver” forms allowing other adults to make decisions
Advocacy: Unaccompanied Youth • School districts cannot require caretakers to obtain guardianship of youth after enrollment, or within a specific number of days, in order for youth to remain in school. • Many homeless youth lose credits due to absences, and school districts are required to help them make up lost credits. • You may need to argue that school district policies that would prevent youth with “scattered” or no accumulated credit from enrolling must be revised because they are a barrier.
Advocacy: What about school discipline? • McKinney-Vento does not overrule state or local discipline policies. If a student has been suspended or expelled for behavior, those policies apply. • If, however, a student has been disciplined for reasons related to homelessness (eg, excessive absences), the student should not be penalized and the policy should be revised.
Advocacy: What about homeless students receiving special education services? • The local liaison must immediately assist with getting the student’s IEP paperwork, and the IEP must immediately be implemented. • The IDEA requires school districts to appoint surrogate parents for unaccompanied homeless youth within 30 days. • IDEA regs permit staff members of emergency shelters, transitional shelters, independent living programs, and outreach programs to serve as temporary surrogate parents.
Questions? Need More Help? • Sarah Biehl, Ohio Poverty Law Center/Ohio State Legal Services Association: firstname.lastname@example.org, (614) 221-7201 x. 130 • Melissa Will, Southeastern Ohio Legal Services: email@example.com, (740) 345-0850 • National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth:http://www.naehcy.org/ • National Center for Homeless Education: http://www.serve.org/nche/m-v.php • National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty: http://www.nlchp.org/ • U.S. DOE non-regulatory guidance for school districts on implementing McKinney-Vento: http://www.ed.gov/programs/homeless/guidance.pdf