Q & A from our Inboxes

SchoolHouse Connection receives many questions from educators, service providers, and the public about the education of children and youth experiencing homelessness. We’ll feature some of them here. These answers correspond to particular fact situations and may not always apply to a question you have. Please contact us with your specific questions.

 

Our State Pre-K application requests verification of a family’s income to determine eligibility and funding for each slot. We want families who are homeless to apply, but what can we request to verify their income, recognizing that they often are unable to provide documentation?

Answer: The best solution would be for your State Pre-K program to provide automatic eligibility for children experiencing homelessness. That way, they would not have to prove income. State Pre-K could accept referrals from liaisons, family shelters and other sources,...

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A student was designated McKinney-Vento for the 2016-2017 school year, but became permanently housed in the spring. The family wishes for the student to attend summer school at the school of origin. Can the student stay at the school of origin for summer school?

Answer: It depends on how your state defines the school year. McKinney-Vento states that LEAs must “continue the child's or youth's education in the school of origin … for the remainder of the academic year, if the child or youth becomes permanently housed during an...

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I am working with a homeless unaccompanied student who is trying to secure summer employment. The work permit needs to be signed by a parent or legal guardian. This student is doubled up with his aunt (not a legal guardian) and is not in contact with his parents. Is there any way around getting the signature on the work permit?

Answer: This depends on state law. Some states do not require work permits or allow youth to sign on their own. Other states have different requirements for different types of jobs. Your state does require a parent or guardian’s signature for the work permit. Since...

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When schools districts begin their school year on different dates, how is school of origin transportation handled at the start of the school year? Is a district of residence expected to provide transportation if they have not yet started their school year? Or, would the school of origin be responsible for providing the transportation until the resident district starts their year?

Answer: McKinney-Vento does not dictate how the transportation has to be split or arranged between the districts, simply that it has to be provided. If the two districts cannot agree, they split the cost equally. However, the districts could come up with any...

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How best would a district “certify” McKinney-Vento status for an unaccompanied graduate who never identified his living situation while in high school? He is now attempting to enroll in college and would like to indicate unaccompanied youth homelessness for purposes of completing FAFSA. 

Answer: The student should indicate his status on the FAFSA as an unaccompanied homeless youth. If he completes the FAFSA online, there will be an option for him to indicate his homeless status, and to indicate that he does not have a determination from the liaison....

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If an unaccompanied youth’s caregiver has a fixed, regular, and adequate place to stay, does the youth meet the McKinney-Vento definition of homeless? Should my thinking be more geared to the living situation of the youth’s parents/guardians, the youth, or the caregiver?

Answer: The analysis should focus on the student’s living situation; but the parent’s or guardian’s living situation also can be a factor. With respect to choosing the school of origin versus the local school, the McKinney-Vento Act states that, "The choice regarding...

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We received a grant to pilot a program where McKinney-Vento students are provided with a one-to-one mentor, who are teachers or other school staff. All meetings will be at the school, and the program will be voluntary. Are we breaching confidentiality by revealing that these students are McKinney-Vento eligible?  Most will be minors – Do we need to have parent permission or notification that this is happening?

Answer: It is not a Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) violation to share information on these students’ McKinney-Vento eligibility with their mentors.  FERPA specifically allows the sharing of education records without parent consent to other school...

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We have a student staying with her grandmother (father incarcerated; mother is homeless and involved in drugs). The student goes to one of our magnet schools. Due to a number of problems in the grandmother’s life, the student’s attendance has been poor. The school counselor has told the grandmother that due to excessive absences, the student is denied acceptance for the 17-18 school year. Grandmother has come to me asking for my help in keeping her granddaughter at the magnet school. How does McKinney-Vento apply to this situation?

Answer: There are two issues here. One is a question of best interest. The student has the right to remain in the school of origin for the duration of homelessness, if that is in her best interest. In this case, the absences would be part of the best interest...

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A McKinney-Vento family is dealing with a massive flea infestation where they are staying. They have brought the fleas to school many times, and the district has had to fumigate the classroom. Can the principal use McKinney-Vento funds to pay to fumigate the family’s home?

Answer: The core question in this situation is whether the fleas are creating a barrier to the students’ education. It appears that the students are attending school, and the fleas are not creating a health risk or preventing the children from participating fully in...

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I am working with an unaccompanied youth who has been invited to play basketball with a club team. Mom is unwilling to sign the release for her to play. DHS (child welfare) is involved, and we are working with the caseworker to sign the release, but we are not sure if that will happen. Participating in this club basketball team is keeping this youth engaged and successful in school, and opening doors to higher education. Does McKinney-Vento apply to full participation in club sports?

Answer: The term “club sport” can mean different things in different places, so first, we need to clarify that club basketball is a school activity, and not a community league or otherwise not directly connected to school. If club basketball is not a school activity,...

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Are all LEAs that receive Title I required to reserve set-side funds for homeless students? Or are only those that have a mix of Title I and non-Title I campuses required to do so, although all LEAS may reserve such funds if they choose to?

Answer: All LEAs that receive Title I, Part A funds must reserve funds for homeless children and youth, including those LEAs where every campus is a Title I campus. This is clear from the fact that the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 (ESSA) eliminated the previous...

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What does the law mean when it states that homeless children and youth “do not face barriers in accessing … extracurricular activities?” Is it specifically related to extracurricular activities related to academics?

Answer:  This provision is broader than only activities related to academics.  Rather than “academic,” the activity must be an integral part of school activities.  The basis for this is: The definition of “enrollment” includes attending classes and participating in...

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I’ve been trying to find the statement in the law (or guidance, or regulations) that states that the reservation of funds under Title I Part A that is required for homeless students must be taken “off the top” of an LEA’s allocation before funds are distributed to schools. We’re trying to figure out the meaning of funds “off the top,” and how this relates to homelessness, non-public schools, etc.

Answer: This requirement is found in the language of the law itself, Section 1113(c)(3)(A)(i) of Title I, Part A. A recent Congressional Research Service memo helps clarify this provision by stating that “current ESEA statutory language directs that the reservation of...

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When a family leaves a shelter, they usually call the liaison to provide their new address for the purpose of rearranging school transportation. Can the liaison change/update a family’s address based on this phone call? Some in our district are saying families need to come in to the central enrollment office and show proof of address or sign an affidavit before we can adjust transportation. 

Answer: Yes, the liaison can update the address and rearrange the student’s transportation based on the phone call. Requiring families to go to the central enrollment office before adjusting transportation arrangements will result in students missing school. That is a...

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We’ve seen a few disputes where the district liaison doesn’t have all the details about the McKinney-Vento family and their situation. So when they go into a dispute they don’t understand the full story. This has caused the family to feel harassed and unwanted in the LEA and tainted the dispute process. What legal language can I use to address this?

Answer: The liaison has the legal responsibility to ensure enrollment disputes are mediated and to carry out the dispute process expeditiously. 42 USC §§11432(g)(3)(E)(iii) & 11432(g)(6)(A)(vii). In order to do this, the liaison must collect all the facts to be...

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Many of our districts have school building-level McKinney-Vento contacts who work with the district liaison. We know this is a best practice, but we’ve run into challenges regarding lines of authority. For example, if a building contact deems a family homeless, but the liaison disagrees, it can create confusion and undue hardships for families. What would the law say about this?

Answer: We have published Guidelines for Designating LEA-Level and Building-Level McKinney-Vento Liaisons that may be helpful. The district level liaison is the ultimate authority on LEA determinations of homelessness and other decisions (disputable by the...

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Does ESSA speak to the “immediate enrollment” of preschool children (as long as openings exist), similar to what is required for K-12 students? In my state, both state and federally funded preschool programs are required to be licensed by the state and must follow licensing guidelines which require documentation that our families experiencing homelessness often do not have in their immediate possession.

Answer: The short answer is yes, the McKinney-Vento Act requirements for immediate enrollment do apply to preschool programs that are administered by the SEA or LEAs. The guidance from the U.S. Department of Education states the following: “N-4. Do McKinney-Vento Act...

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A homeless unaccompanied youth who receives special education services is residing with her grandmother. The parent does not want the grandmother to make any educational decisions, but the school does not think the parent is the best decision maker, since she has no communication at all with the student. I want to make sure we are following the student and parental rights as outlined in McKinney-Vento as well as the IDEA.

Answer: The mother retains her rights under IDEA even while the daughter is living somewhere else and they are not in touch. Unless a court intervenes to restrict the mother’s rights (which is extremely unlikely at this point), she remains the mother legally. If the...

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If a student is identified in a district as McKinney-Vento, and during the same school year, is placed in foster care, does that student still receive McKinney-Vento services for the entire year, which would include transportation? Since McKinney-Vento services are provided for the entire school year, does the McKinney-Vento identification supersede the foster care identification?

Answer: No. In light of the new ED guidance that came out on March 3, the foster care identification essentially supersedes the McKinney-Vento identification in this situation.  The new guidance specifies that if a student qualified as “homeless” due to awaiting...

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A family has been evicted from a home. Nonetheless, they continue living in said home after eviction notice and court order. The family now essentially is “squatting” in the residence. Does that make them McKinney-Vento?

Answer: Yes. Based on this information, the family is eligible. The family has no right to be where they are staying, and in fact it isn’t legal for them to be there - they could be forcibly removed at any time. It also seems likely that under these circumstances...

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We had a family living in an apartment complex that is being torn down for a highway. The housing authority allowed them to stay until they found a new place and assisted them with the move. The family found a new place in another district.  Are they McKinney-Vento eligible?

Answer: If the family moved from one fixed, regular, and adequate residence directly to another fixed, regular, and adequate residence – without a period of homelessness in between – then they would not be considered McKinney-Vento. However, as you consider where the...

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I have a question for a high school senior who already completed the FAFSA and included her parents’ income.  She is now living on her own and qualifies as an unaccompanied homeless youth.  Can she amend her FAFSA to indicate that and have her parents’ income be deleted and not considered for financial aid purposes? 

Answer: Yes, the senior can amend her FAFSA.  In fact, she must amend it. There’s some info here that explains the requirements and the process: https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/fafsa/next-steps/correct-update.  Changes in dependency status (such as becoming an...

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We are still struggling with the issue of IEPs that contain transportation as a related service for homeless students who are crossing state lines. Do the two LEAs arrange and share the cost of transportation for homeless students with IEPs that list it as a related service, or does the LEA that is providing all of the IEP services pay for any and all transportation needs for that student, even if he is homeless?

Answer: We have some brand new federal guidance on that question.  It’s new Question J-12 of the McKinney-Vento Guidance update issued on March 3, 2017. When crossing state lines, the allocation of transportation costs should follow the McKinney-Vento Act’s...

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I have a question about an unaccompanied youth and her school of origin rights. The student’s parent is currently incarcerated and she has been sent to live with family friends (no legal guardianship). They want her to attend the local school and do not want her to return to her school of origin. The liaison feels it is in her best interest to remain in the school of origin, and the student wants to remain. Where should this child attend school?

Answer: Let’s talk through the non McKinney-Vento legalities first, for context. These caregivers have no legal rights over the child unless the parents or a court gives them rights. The parent(s) could sign a simple power of attorney that gives the caregiver(s) the...

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