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.

 

A family in a domestic violence shelter in District A is moving into the shelter’s transitional housing program this summer, in District B. The family is expected to be there for 2 years. Does District A have to keep the student and provide transportation, or may they have the student register in District B?

Answer: This depends entirely on the best interest of the student. As amended by ESSA, McKinney-Vento presumes that remaining in the school of origin is in the student’s best interest. However, if it truly looks like the student will be stable in District B for 2...

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We are encountering families who qualified for our program last year, who are now in Permanent Supportive Housing Programs. Under HUD, these families are no longer considered homeless. Does this same rule apply to schools?

Answer: This is a case-by-case determination, hinging on what kind of housing actually is being provided and the terms of the housing. In general, try to consider whether the housing is more like a Section 8 voucher (not McKinney-Vento education eligible) or more like...

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To maintain an accurate database, at the end of the school year, I remove students whom I know have secured stable housing. In August, I reach out to the others with questionnaires and phone calls/emails, to get the latest information. If they are still eligible, I keep them in the program. Is that process appropriate, or should I remove ALL my McKinney-Vento students at the end of each year and then have them re-apply to determine continued eligibility?

Answer: Your process seems appropriate and more likely to avoid dropping students from the program who actually are still experiencing homelessness. Reaching out with phone calls, emails, questionnaires, and reminders to families to update you on their living...

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For the FAFSA, a Financial Aid Administrator (FAA) can resolve “conflicting information” with a documented phone call or a written statement from the relevant authority. If the FAA simply disagrees with an authority’s determination, is that “conflicting information”? Does the determination supersede the FAA’s disagreement?

Answer: Yes, the determination supersedes the FAA’s disagreement. The U.S. Department of Education has made it very clear, in both the Application and Verification Guide and a Dear Colleague letter, that it is not conflicting information if a FAA disagrees with an...

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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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