If you and your family are experiencing homelessness, you may be struggling to enroll and keep your children in school. If you have a child with special needs, you may have even more challenges to make sure your child receives the help she needs. Here are some concerns that parents often have:

  • not knowing who to talk to about their child’s needs;
  • not knowing if their child’s problems in school are caused by a disability or by the stress of being homeless;
  • not being sure how to help their child adjust to a new school after moving to a temporary living situation;
  • not being able to arrange time and transportation for parent-teacher conferences or meetings at school; and
  • not understanding the process for getting special education services for their child.

This brief will help you with each of these concerns and offer resources for additional assistance. Briefs on additional homeless education topics are available at http://www.serve.org/nche/briefs.php.

Laws that Help Homeless Children and Youth with Disabilities

There are two federal laws that help make sure homeless children and youth with special needs get the support they need to enroll and succeed in school.

The McKinney-Vento Act

  • guarantees access to education and educational support for any child or youth who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence (see the McKinney-Vento Definition of Homeless below for information on who is eligible for services under the McKinney-Vento Act);
  • gives homeless children and youth the right to enroll in school immediately, even if they do not have documents that are usually required for enrollment;
  • allows them to attend classes and participate in all school activities, even if they do not have school supplies or uniforms; and
  • allows them to continue in their school when the family moves to a new location, to the extent feasible, if this is in their best interest, and to receive transportation to their school. [42 U.S.C. §§ 11431-11435]

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA), Part B1

  • guarantees rights and services for children and youth with special needs at no cost to the parents;
  • requires schools to evaluate children who may have a disability and if found eligible, develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP) with special services to meet each child’s needs;
  • requires schools to provide
    • special education, which means teaching and classroom services that are designed especially to help a student with a disability; and
    • related services, which are other kinds of extra help, like transportation, speech therapy, mental health counseling, psychological services, physical therapy, health services, parent counseling and training, and social work services; and
    • requires that a school where a child transfers continues a special education evaluation that was begun at another school within a specific time frame, or provides services immediately for a child

McKinney-Vento Definition of Homeless
42 U.S.C. § 11434a(2)

The term “homeless children and youth”—

A. means individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence…; and

B. includes —

i. children and youths who are sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason; are living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camping grounds due to the lack of alternative adequate accommodations; are living in emergency or transitional shelters; are abandoned in hospitals; or are awaiting foster care placement;

ii. 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…

iii. children and youths who are living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations, or similar settings; and

iv. migratory children who qualify as homeless for the purposes of this subtitle because the children are living in circumstances described in clauses (i) through (iii).

[rescue_box color=”blue” text_align=”left” width=”100%” float=”none”]IMPORTANT: The information in this post provides a brief overview of the of the McKinney-Vento Act.  For more detailed or case-specific information, contact:

Your State Coordinator for Homeless Education | Visit https://nche.ed.gov/states/state_resources.php

Your local homeless education liaison | Texas: http://www.theotx.org/liaison-directory/

The NCHE homeless education helpline 800.308.2145 or homeless@serve.org[/rescue_box]

Rights of McKinney-Vento Students

Immediate enrollment, even if lacking documentation normally required for enrollment, or having missed application or enrollment deadlines during any period of homelessness

  • School districts must contact previous school districts immediately to request student records
  • School districts must help with obtaining needed immunizations, screenings, and/or immunization or other required health records

School selection | In making best interest determinations:

  • School districts must presume that keeping the student in the school of origin is in the student’s best interest, except when doing so is contrary to the request of the parent, guardian, or unaccompanied youth

[rescue_box color=”blue” text_align=”left” width=”100%” float=”none”]School of origin is the school the child attended when permanently housed or the school in which the child or youth was last enrolled, this includes district-administered public preschool programs and receiving schools (transitions between elementary > middle > high).[/rescue_box]

  • School districts must consider student-centered factors related to the student’s best interest, including factors related to the impact of mobility on achievement, education, health, and safety of homeless children and youth, giving priority to the request of the parent, guardian, or unaccompanied youth
  • Should a disagreement arise about the school of attendance, the district must provide the parent, guardian, or youth with a written explanation of its determination, including information on the right to appeal

Transportation to/from the school of origin, upon request

  • If the student is living and attending the school of origin in the same district, that district provides transportation
  • If the student is living in one district and attending the school of origin in another, the two districts must agree on how to apportion the cost and responsibility of providing transportation, or split the cost and responsibility 50/50; however, some states have put into place policies that provide more specific direction regarding interdistrict transportation

Free school meals through a streamlined certification process, see any
available state guidance

Title I, Part A support (targeted assistance, schoolwide, homeless set-aside)

Special education services, when necessary

Provision of materials needed to enable the student to attend classes and participate fully in school (e.g. school uniforms, etc.)

 Referrals to services, including health care, dental, mental health, substance abuse, housing, and other appropriate services

Unique Post-Harvey Considerations

The McKinney-Vento immediate enrollment will be key, as documentation may have been destroyed and/or lost.

School selection decisions may need to factor in unique circumstances

  • Returns to the school of origin may not be available for students whose school of origin is not operational; if the school of origin reopens, the student would have the right to return at that time
  • In cases where schools of origin are expected to reopen, districts should communicate early with parents, guardians, and unaccompanied youth about the school of origin right, and provide clear information on how best interest determinations will be addressed once the school of origin reopens
  • School districts should consider state-specific laws or policies that provide flexibility regarding school selection beyond that provided in Federal statute
    • Ex: TX Education Code Section 25.001(b)(5), FL school choice and open enrollment statutes

Students may need added mental health supports to recover from the upheaval of the disaster.

Texas Resources

Disaster response webpage

Homeless education helpline
800.308.2145, homeless@serve.org

NCHE homeless education issue briefs | https://nche.ed.gov/briefs.php, including:

  • Determining Eligibility for McKinney-Vento Rights and Services
  • Confirming Eligibility for McKinney-Vento Rights and Services
  • Guiding the Discussion on School Selection
  • Transporting Children and Youth Experiencing Homelessness
  • Access to Food for Homeless and Highly Mobile Students

TEA Hurricane Harvey Resources:

TEA Dealing with Disasters FAQ:

THEO Disaster Response webpage:

TX Health and Human Services Hurricane Harvey webpage:

Federal Resources

U.S. Department of Education

Hurricane Harvey Information and Resources

Hurricane Harvey Toll-Free Hotline

Hurricane Harvey Email

Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools Technical Assistance Center

Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) Policy Guidance: Disclosure of Student Information Related to Emergencies and Disasters https://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/pdf/ferpa-disaster-guidance.pdf

Planning to Recover From Emergencies at Districts and Schools Webinar

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Disaster Distress Helpline
(1-800-985-5990) and SMS (text ‘TalkWithUs’ to 66746)

Hurricane Harvey webpage

Tips for Talking With and Helping Children and Youth Cope After a Disaster or Traumatic Event https://store.samhsa.gov/shin/content//SMA12-4732/SMA12-4732.pdf

Head Start Emergency Preparedness Manual: 2015 Edition

Head Start Emergency Preparedness Tip Sheets

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Caring for Children in a Disaster webpage

Interim Immunization Recommendations for Individuals Displaced by a Disaster https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/disease/vaccrecdisplaced.html

Federal Emergency Management Agency

Hurricane Harvey webpage

FEMA’s Children and Disasters webpage

Keeping Children Safe after Harvey (available in English, Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Spanish, Tagalog, Urdu, Vietnamese) https://www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/documents/136310