SchoolHouse Connection receives many questions from educators, service providers, and the public about the education and care of children and youth experiencing homelessness. We respond to every question we receive, citing applicable law and policy. In order to assist people who may have similar questions, we feature many of the questions and answers on this web page.

In addition, we offer a compilation of questions and answers, organized by categories (the website is searchable by keyword).

Please note that our answers correspond to particular fact situations in the questions that we receive, and may not apply to general situations. Please contact us with your specific questions. We are happy to help!

Can a district make school of origin transportation contingent upon a family interview at the Homeless Office? The school is trying to deny school of origin transportation because of prior absences.

Answer: No, transportation cannot be contingent on a family going to the homeless office. If the student has been missing excessive amounts of school, the school is within its rights to re-evaluate whether it is in the student’s best interest to remain in the school of origin (while recognizing the presumption in favor of keeping the student in the school of origin and the priority given to the parent’s or unaccompanied youth’s wishes).   42 U.S.C. § 11432(g)(31)( BJ)(iii). The school must involve the family in that discussion.  However, the school cannot require the family to meet in person at the homeless office, since homeless families commonly do not have transportation and may have work or other basic needs issues that prevent them from attending a meeting.  The school may be able to help the parents attend by providing transportation and offering the meeting at a convenient time.  The school also may offer the parents another means to attend, such as by phone. Ultimately, if the school is totally unable to reach the parent to discuss best interest, the school can make its best interest determination without the parent’s involvement. But then the school would be required to provide the parent with written notice of its decision and ensure the parent can access the dispute process. 42 U.S.C. § 11432(g)(3)(B)(iii) and § 11432(g)(3)(E)(ii).

Also, if the parent or student appeals, the student must remain enrolled in the school of origin, and the school must continue to provide transportation, as the dispute process unfolds. 42 U.S.C. § 11432(g)(3)(E)(i).

I’m looking for assistance in explaining the legal ramifications if something should happen to a McKinney-Vento student who is given an out-of-school suspension. It is a concern as these students don't have a place to stay while suspended, and several schools do not have a specific room for internal suspension.

Answer: If a school is aware that a McKinney-Vento student does not have a safe place to be during the day, and something happens to the student while suspended, the district could be exposed to liability. This is particularly true considering that the McKinney-Vento Act requires state and local educational agencies to review and revise policies to remove barriers to the identification of homeless children and youths, and the enrollment and retention of homeless children and youths.  42 U.S.C. § 11432(g)(1)(I).

You also might want to share our document on school discipline and homelessness for some ideas on positive school discipline practices to avoid out-of-school suspensions.

I am looking for documents stating that an unaccompanied youth, over 18 or not, can sign their own documents.

Answer: NCHE’s unaccompanied youth issue brief is probably your best bet. It includes the legal citations about the right to immediate enrollment, without proof of guardianship, and of course “enrollment” means “attending classes and participating fully in school activities.” It discusses the requirement for LEAs to develop, review, and revise policies to remove barriers to the identification, enrollment, and retention of homeless children and youth, including barriers due to outstanding fees, fines, or absences. Also, it specifically discusses allowing youth to enroll themselves. Lastly, because it is from NCHE, it might have more clout with a resistant district; the last page specifically mentions the U.S. Department of Education. Also, you could show the entire U.S. Department of Education’s Guidance. Question I-5 might be helpful, in addition to the tips on page 26.

Should military personnel whose homes have been destroyed in a hurricane, and who are staying in temporary housing like motels, be considered homeless under the McKinney-Vento Act? They are receiving government money for housing.

Answer: Yes, military families who lost their homes in a hurricane are considering homeless under McKinney-Vento, just like a non-military family who lost their home. The families are staying in a motel due to the lack of an adequate alternative. 42 U.S.C. § 11434a(2).

We are working with an unaccompanied youth who had to leave his stepfather’s house after his mother died. He is staying on friends’ couches. Suddenly, step dad wants us to report the student as a runaway and complete paperwork so stepdad can continue getting child support and social security benefits. I understand we--as the school district--should focus on “retention,” but does this student have any rights?

Answer: Yes, both the school and the student have rights in this situation. First, the runaway report. Schools don’t make runaway reports. Parents make runaway reports to law enforcement. So the stepfather can make a report, and should not ask the school to do that. If a runaway report is made to law enforcement, and the school is aware of the report, the school has to contact law enforcement or child protective services or the parent. The point of the contact is to let someone know where the youth is. In this case, the stepdad knows where the youth is. The stepdad can go to law enforcement and tell them where the youth is. The school does not need to be involved, and in fact should not be involved. This is a family matter that the stepdad needs to deal with, not the school.

In addition, the McKinney-Vento Act requires schools to remove barriers to identification, enrollment, and retention in school. 42 U.S.C. § 11432(g)(1)(I). Calling the police in this situation would present a tremendous barrier to identification, enrollment, and retention and would violate the McKinney-Vento Act. The school also is not required to complete any paperwork related to child support. In fact, I would suggest your district speak with an attorney before completing any such paperwork. I suspect the paperwork requires the school to verify information about the support the stepdad provides to the youth. Since you have identified the student as an unaccompanied youth, it would not be appropriate for you to provide the court with information stating the stepdad is supporting the student. Assuming the student is 16 years old or older, the student can get social security benefits transferred to his own name. He will need to do that at a social security office. If you (or someone else appropriate from school) could accompany him, or at least give him a letter on your letterhead describing his situation, that would be very helpful. He can get an appointment at the Social Security office by calling 800-772-1213.

Hopefully, at least the youth will able to switch payment of the Social Security benefits. The youth also can switch Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, if stepdad is getting any of those.

I work with youth in independent living programs and transitional housing programs for foster youth. Are the youth in our programs homeless under the McKinney-Vento Act?

Answer: It sounds like you are working with youth in foster care. Youth in foster care includes any youth in the care and custody of the child welfare system, regardless of where they are placed (including an ILP or THPP, motel, or other situation), how long they have been in care, or where they lived before they were brought into care. 45 CFR 1355.20(a). Youth in care are not eligible for McKinney-Vento services. However, they are eligible for services for youth in care as defined under Title I, Part A of the Every Student Succeeds Act, which provides for immediate enrollment in school and the ability to remain in the school of origin. 20 U.S.C. § 6311(g)(1)(E)(i). The protections are very similar to those under the McKinney-Vento Act, with the exception that the child welfare agency is responsible for providing transportation to the school of origin, as opposed to the school district.

Can you provide perspective on schools using ride-sharing services such as Uber or Lyft as student transportation?

Answer: It’s really up to the school district to determine if they want to use ride-sharing services. The district’s lawyers or risk managers may have a position on whether those services are appropriate to transport students. Under the McKinney-Vento Act, the means of transportation is not specified, and school districts can choose how to provide transportation, as long as the methods are safe and appropriate. (The McKinney-Vento Act requires transportation to and from the school of origin for as long as it is the student’s best interest to attend that school, as well as transportation to remove barriers to attendance and participation, as well as any other transportation that is comparable to what housed students receive. 42 U.S.C. § 11432(g)(3)(A) and § 11432(g)(4)(A)). Uber or Lyft may be appropriate for a parent and student together, or for an older student. But since there are not the same background checks that many taxi companies use, ride-sharing services may not be appropriate for school districts at all. 

When it comes to student needs under the umbrella of Title I services, can the fiscal manager deny requests for the McKinney-Vento students? Can the fiscal manager have the students pay for pencils, or deny orders of school supplies?

Answer: Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, all local educational agencies (LEAs) that receive Title I, Part A funds are required to reserve funds for students experiencing homelessness. 20 U.S.C. § 6313(c)(3)(A). Even if the LEA has not identified McKinney-Vento students in the past, virtually no LEA (charter or otherwise) can be 100% sure that they will never have a student experience homelessness in the coming year. The liaison should be involved in determining the amount and uses of the set-aside as part of the LEA’s Title I, Part A plan. (See Question M-8 of the U.S. Department of Education’s Guidance, text provided below.)

Once the amount and categorical uses of the set-aside are defined in the Title plan, the liaison should be able to access the funds freely for any use that is in-line with the plan. It seems inappropriate for the fiscal manager to deny any requests that are in-line with the Title I Part A plan. The liaison will have a much better understanding than the fiscal manager of the breadth of needs of McKinney-Vento students and is in a much better position to prioritize the uses of funds based on the severity of those needs. While each district can have its own policy on how funds are accessed and used, the liaison absolutely needs to be the driver of funding that serves McKinney-Vento students, including Title I funding.

M-8. What is an LEA required to include in its Title I, Part A plan regarding services for homeless students?

Under section 1112(b)(6) of the ESEA, an LEA must describe in its Title I, Part A plan the services it will provide homeless children and youths, including services provided with funds reserved under section 1113(c)(3)(A) of the ESEA, to support the enrollment, attendance, and success of these children and youths. An LEA’s Title I, Part A application also should include a description of the method used for determining the amount reserved, whether by a needs assessment or some other method (e.g., past homeless student enrollment and support service cost data), and how the liaison was consulted or involved in determining the set-aside.”

Under McKinney Vento, can a family be considered homeless if they are living in inadequate housing that is not doubled up, a hotel, or public space? For example, a family of 5 living in a one bedroom apartment.

Answer: Definitely yes! The law includes adequacy in two ways. First, the umbrella definition of homeless is “lacking a fixing, regular and adequate nighttime residence.” That means regardless of any other factors, if a residence is lacking in any ONE of those three conditions, the student is homeless. Second, the law includes children and youth living in substandard housing. While the law does not define substandard, the US Department of Education’s Guidance has set some parameters that include housing being dangerous or out of compliance with housing codes (in question A-3, at https://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/leg/essa/160240ehcyguidance072716updated0317.pdf). Overcrowded housing certainly could be inadequate and/or substandard. It would depend on the specifics of the housing, square footage, etc.

Our state athletic association will not let students start football practice until their parent or legal guardian signs a concussion acknowledgement form. How should this work for unaccompanied youth under McKinney-Vento? There are liability concerns.

Answer: The McKinney-Vento Act applies to the policies and procedures of the state athletic league. McKinney-Vento requires that lack of parent or guardian cannot be a barrier to enrollment, which includes full participation in school activities. So this procedure/requirement is a barrier that violates the McKinney-Vento Act. Legally speaking, a signature acknowledging concussion risk provides little, if any, protection against a potential lawsuit. It is a procedure that may be a good practice and may soothe administrators’ concerns, but it will not prevent a lawsuit or shield the LEA or state athletic league from liability. However, preventing unaccompanied youth from participating fully in school activities certainly is grounds for a lawsuit. Administrative complaints and lawsuits have been filed to enforce homeless youths’ rights to participate in sports, including the rights of unaccompanied youth. To my knowledge, the school districts and athletic associations have lost every such claim that has been filed. To resolve this issue, state athletic league and the LEAs need to develop an alternate procedure for unaccompanied youth, since the current procedure is a barrier. That could include the youth himself signing the document; it could include the parent signing IF the parent is reasonably available and willing to sign; it could include a caretaker signing, IF one is available and willing to sign; it could include a coach, athletic director or other administrator signing. Federal law does not define how the barrier must be removed, only that a policy/procedure to remove the barrier must be in place. With these students, as with all students, it is critical that coaches and other LEA staff exercise reasonable care to prevent injuries. That, and only that, will provide protection in the case of a lawsuit.

In our district, we have discussed creating a Power of Attorney document to use in cases where a parent has given someone else authority to take care of their child and make educational decisions. Is that allowed?

Answer: If your district wants to attempt to get powers of attorney signed, that is fine as a practice. It can be helpful to access medical care and other services. But be aware that it cannot delay enrollment. The student must be attending classes and participating fully in school activities while the school attempts to get a parent or legal guardian to sign the power of attorney.

One of my school district homeless liaisons is asking if receiving free school meals would impact a family’s immigration status under the possible changes to the Public Charge Rule. We have a few districts that would be impacted by this, and there are families in those communities that are already concerned about this.

Answer: The proposed Public Charge rule is complex, but here is some basic information. First, you can refer people to the text of the proposed rule (although it is quite long): https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2018/10/10/2018-21106/inadmissibility-on-public-charge-grounds. This was published on October 10, and people can submit comments on it until December 10.

As you noted, at this point it is only a proposed rule and does not have any legal effect currently. It’s also important to note that the rule does not affect U.S. citizen children of immigrant parents directly, although it could affect them indirectly by affecting their parents. The proposed rule would affect people who are applying for a visa or other legal status to enter the U.S., or who are requesting a change in their visa or immigration status in the U.S.

The Public Charge provision itself has been in effect for some time. It requires people applying to enter the U.S. to demonstrate they are unlikely to become a “public charge,” which means they are unlikely to receive various kinds of public benefits. There are exemptions to this requirement. The proposed rule would make changes to the provision to broaden the definition of “public benefits,” making it more difficult for people to demonstrate that they will not become a public charge.

The proposed rule appears NOT to include the following programs in the definition of “public benefit.” In other words, receiving these benefits would not count against a person applying for admission or a change of status in the U.S.:

  • School meals
  • McKinney-Vento Education for Homeless Children and Youth services
  • Title I and other “means-tested programs under the ESEA”
  • Immunization assistance
  • Foster care/adoption payments
  • Soup kitchens and food banks
  • Crisis counseling
  • DV services
  • Mental illness/substance abuse services
  • “Short-term shelter or housing assistance for the homeless, for victims of DV, or for runaway, abused, or abandoned children”
  • Any higher education assistance
  • Head Start
  • In-kind disaster relief
  • Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act services

However, there are many programs included that will affect families, children and youth, including:

  • SNAP (although children under 18 are exempted)
  • TANF
  • Section 8 (housing choice and project-based)
  • Subsidized public housing
  • General Assistance (in states that offer GA)
  • Medicaid
  • SSI
  • CHIP (Children’s Medicaid— this program is not included in the proposed rule, but the agency is seeking comments about whether it should be included.)

Additional pieces of the rule that may be of interest to homeless liaisons include the following:

“Because of the nature of the public benefits that would be considered under this rule—which are generally means- tested and provide cash for income maintenance and for basic living needs such as food, medical care, and housing—DHS believes that receipt of such benefits even in a relatively small amount or for a relatively short duration would in many cases be sufficient to render a person a public charge.”

“By way of illustration, under the proposed policy, an alien’s receipt of Medicaid for 9 months and receipt of public housing for 6 months, if both occurred within the same 36-month period, would amount to 15 months of receipt of non-monetizable benefits, regardless of whether these periods of time overlapped, were consecutive, or occurred at different points in time during the 36-month period. As such, the receipt of those benefits would be considered for purposes of this rule.”

SchoolHouse Connection is likely to join other organizations in commenting on the rule, and publishing a brief once the rule is final.

Our district policy is that if an unaccompanied minor's parent is out of state, whomever he/she was living with would have to apply for temporary guardianship in order for the youth to enter school. I have always thought that for McKinney-Vento purposes that should not be our policy, because the minor qualifies as homeless, and it shouldn't matter where the parent was. Am I right?

Answer: Yes, you are exactly right! The requirement for a caretaker to get temporary guardianship is a barrier to enrollment that would be a violation of McKinney-Vento. The time it takes to get guardianship, the cost and the paperwork would delay enrollment, and that is an unacceptable barrier under McKinney-Vento.

Can a youth service provider that is not HUD- or RHYA-funded help an unaccompanied youth verify her status for the FAFSA?

Answer: Yes. Technically, only HUD-funded and RHYA-funded shelters (and homeless liaisons) are authorized to verify homelessness for the FAFSA. However, other shelters and service providers can provide documentation to assist the Financial Aid Administrator to make the determination. Therefore, letters from such providers vouching for the youth’s homelessness are very important and helpful.

Even though we have a state law that requires students to take the TB test to be physically in class, I understand that federal law overrides state law, and that a student identified as homeless can be in the classroom regardless if they have a TB test. Can you point me to this provision in federal law?

Answer: The McKinney-Vento Act requires schools to enroll students experiencing homelessness immediately, even if the student is unable to provide documents that are typically required for enrollment, such as previous academic records, records of immunization and other required health records, proof of residency, or other documentation. TB tests would fall under “other required health records.” The legal citation for that provision is 42 U.S.C. §11432(g)(3)(C). In addition, “enroll” is defined in the Act as attending classes and participating fully in school activities. The citation for that provision is 42 U.S.C. §11434A(1). There is additional supporting information on this issue on page 24 of the Department of Education’s Guidance.

Is a student considered homeless if the family owns multiple residences but loses or leaves one of them? We recently had a situation with a family who had one of their homes foreclosed on, but still owned and moved into their vacation cottage. Is a student considered homeless if the family owns multiple residences but loses or leaves one of them? We recently had a situation with a family who had one of their homes foreclosed on, but still owned and moved into their vacation cottage.

Answer: No, the student would not be eligible under McKinney-Vento. The family moved directly from one fixed, regular, and adequate residence, to another fixed, regular, and adequate residence, with no qualifying homeless situation in between. The only caveat would be to examine the adequacy of the “cottage.” For example, some summer cottages don’t have heat, so if winter rolls around and they are still living there, it may be possible the housing is not adequate.

I have been assisting a student with financial aid to start college. At the end of July, we received notice from the college that the student would not be able to start school for the fall semester because she needed a "verification of non-filing" from the IRS. We didn't know this was required. We have requested the form, but how can I ensure the student can start classes in the fall?

Answer: There is no federally-imposed deadline for this IRS form. It seems to be a school-imposed deadline, meaning the school could waive it. It’s unclear why the school didn’t ask for this documentation sooner, knowing the student’s circumstances. The best approach is to advocate with the financial aid office, reminding them that the student is homeless, that they only just learned about the need for the non-filing verification a few days ago, and that the student cannot attend without financial aid. [NOTE: With some help from SHC and the homeless liaison at an area college, this problem was fixed and the student started classes on time!]

We have a graduating senior, identified as an unaccompanied youth during his senior year, who has outstanding fees for books, etc. They were incurred prior to his homelessness. These fees may prevent him from “walking” at graduation. Can we consider these fees a “barrier” to graduation and advocate for them to be waived?

Answer: Yes, the McKinney-Vento Act would cover this situation. Specifically, McKinney-Vento requires SEAs and LEAs to develop, review, and revise policies to remove barriers to the identification, enrollment, and retention of homeless students in school, including barriers due to fees, fines, and absences. 42 U.S.C. §(g)(1)(I). Even though the fees were incurred prior to homelessness, they now are acting as a barrier to the student’s “enrollment.” The law defines enrollment as “attending classes and participating fully in school activities,” and graduation is a school activity. Therefore, barriers to participating in graduation caused by fees must be removed. This might be waiving the fee, or using McKinney-Vento or other funds to pay the fee. But the barrier must be removed.

Can enrollment staff identify and verify McKinney-Vento eligibility? Or can only Liaisons do that?

Answer: Enrollment staff certainly can identify and verify McKinney-Vento eligibility, as long as the liaison has the opportunity to provide them with adequate training to do so. The law is pretty clear about this, requiring liaisons to ensure that “homeless children and youths are identified by school personnel” (42 USC 11432(g)(6)(A)(i)). It’s a common practice for enrollment staff to do identification, especially in larger school districts where it would be practically impossible for a liaison to be doing all of the identification and verification alone. This is part of the reason ESSA’s McKinney-Vento amendments included a requirement that liaisons ensure “school personnel providing services under this subtitle receive professional development and other support.” 42 USC 11432(g)(6)(A)(ix)). When they have doubts or questions, enrollment staff should refer those immediately to the liaison. The liaison has the final word on eligibility.

When is the official start date of McKinney-Vento eligibility for homeless children and youth? July 1? The first day at each individual school? If a school starts on August 23, what happens to students who are verified as homeless on 7/1, but become permanently housed 8/22? Will they be McKinney-Vento eligible for the 2018-19 school year?

Answer: Technically speaking, this depends on the date in your state when the school year officially starts and ends. Most states define the academic year to go from roughly August 1 to July 31, to cover “extended school year” (i.e. summer school) services. That official school year is the “qualifying year” for McKinney-Vento. Here are some examples. (When I use the term “school year” in my comments below, I’m not talking about the first or last day of regular classes. I’m talking about the official, legal school year.)

  1. Students were homeless last school year, but also became permanently housed last school year: Not MV this school year.
  2. Students were homeless last school year and homelessness continued into the summer: Probably MV this school year, although it depends on the exact date they found permanent housing. Was that date technically last school year, or this school year?
  3. Students were not homeless last school year, but became homeless over the summer and remain homeless into the school year: MV this school year.
  4. Students were not homeless last school year, but became homeless over the summer, and then found housing before the school year started: MV this school year. This is the scenario you suggested— student verified as homeless 7/1, but permanently housed on 8/22. Students who become homeless over the summer have McKinney-Vento rights (see the legal language in the following paragraph).
  5. Students were not homeless last school year, but became homeless on the first day of this school year, and then found housing a week later: MV this school year.

If you’re really just asking for the purposes of maintaining your data, you could consider the day faculty return to school as the beginning of the school year, or the day classes start. It’s probably not so important what the exact date is, as long as it is a date that make sense. But the exact date could be very important, because you also have to remember that students who lose their housing in the summer have rights, too. The school of origin and enrollment provisions of McKinney-Vento provide that students can remain in the school of origin “in any case in which a family becomes homeless between academic years or during an academic year; and for the remainder of the academic year, if the child or youth becomes permanently housed during an academic year.” Either way, eligibility on its own is only the first step. Then you have to determine whether it’s in the student’s best interest to remain in the school of origin. Of the scenarios above, I think for numbers 4 and 5, there would be a very strong argument that it is not in the student’s best interest to remain in the school of origin. They’re already in permanent housing before the school year even starts (or very shortly after), so they can start the year in their neighborhood, with their new peers and neighbors.

Are students who are “unaccompanied” but not McKinney-Vento required to be tracked and/or served by McKinney-Vento? For example, a student who has been raised by a grandmother in adequate housing over many years.

Answer: The McKinney-Vento Act only covers children and youth who meet the definition of homelessness. If a youth is unaccompanied, but not homeless, there is no federal requirement to provide support. However, I do think it can be a best practice to check in on their status at least once a year, to be sure that the situation has not changed.

Our transfer department informed us that our district is not taking out of district transfers, including McKinney-Vento students. We have a family who finished out the school year in our district, is now in transitional living in a different school district, and want to remain in our district for this upcoming school year. We are being told that is not allowed.

Answer: Your transfer department is incorrect. They need to understand that for a McKinney-Vento student, this should not be viewed as an inter-district transfer. For McKinney-Vento students, this is a school of origin issue. The family remains homeless (in a transitional living program), and they have the right to remain in their school of origin for the duration of homelessness, if it is in their best interest. LEAs must presume that remaining in the school of origin is in the student’s best interest. McKinney-Vento students are not subject to inter-district transfer rules. Essentially, they are to be viewed as a district resident, even if they are in fact living out-of-district. The legal citation for this is 42 USC 11432(g)(3)(A)-(B).

We will be audited this year by the State Department and one of the criteria we need to submit evidence for is: “Written procedures that ensure confidentiality of homeless children and youth’s living situation and their educational records." Everyone is FERPA trained, but do we need procedures additionally?

Answer: Federal law does not require a written procedure on confidentiality for McKinney-Vento students. However, if your state department has listed that on their monitoring tool, the state is requiring it. Sometimes states will require written procedures or other steps that technically may not be required by federal law, because the state feels it is the best or only way to ensure good compliance. So if the state is asking for procedures, I think you do need to have written procedures available to show them.

Does “best interest” of a student only refer to a decision between school of origin and attendance area school? What if a student refuses those options and wants a "fresh start" at a different school?

Answer: Yes, the question of ‘best interest’ only pertains to school selection decisions when there is a choice of schools – school of origin vs. school of “residence.” However, there may be other ways to a student to get a residency waiver or choice into another school, unrelated to McKinney-Vento.

What is an LEA’s obligation to reimburse a parent for gas who has been transporting her two homeless children for essentially the entire school year, but only disclosed her homelessness in early May? They moved into a shelter in May and learned about McKinney-Vento at that time.

Answer: The parent probably should be reimbursed for the entire time she has been homeless. On one hand, the school district can’t be held responsible for information it did not have, and it can be difficult to go back in time and retroactively identify homelessness. On the other hand, the school district has a legal obligation to identify students experiencing homelessness. So my question would be, is this district engaging in adequate identification activities? Some considerations: -Prior to the family entering shelter, had they been given a meaningful opportunity to identify as homeless? For example, is there information on the district website? Are there posters in school? Is information sent home to parents? -If they were homeless when they enrolled, does enrollment documentation include a questionnaire to identify homeless students? -It sounds like this is a school of origin situation, so the parent must have changed attendance areas or school districts. She may have been afraid to reveal her situation, thinking that her children would be forced to change schools. If the district does not adequately share MV information, it actually could be encouraging families NOT to reveal their homelessness. If the district is not engaging in adequate identification practices, then I think it is responsible for going back and reimbursing the parent for transportation from the beginning. The parent should not be held responsible for the district’s inadequate implementation of McKinney-Vento. However, if the district is doing lots of outreach, awareness, and other identification activities, and anyone would think the parent should have known about McKinney-Vento and the transportation rights, then I could see not going back to hold the district responsible since day one. I would say though, that is a tough argument— because if the parent had information about MV and the transportation rights, why wouldn’t she have stepped up and asked for help from the beginning?

If the student, parent, and school of origin all agree that it is in the student's best interest to remain in the school of origin, can the district where the student is laying their head at night require a best interest meeting prior to agreeing to assist with transportation?

Answer: The short answer is that the district where the child is laying their head does not determine best interest, and cannot require that it participate in a best interest determination in order to assist with transportation. Under current law, the local educational agency where the child is attending school must “presume that keeping the child or youth in the school of origin is in the child’s or youth’s best interest, except when doing so is contrary to the request of the child’s or youth’s parent or guardian, or (in the case of an unaccompanied youth) the youth.” 42 U.S.C. §11432(g)(3)(B)(i). The best interest determination must be based on a student-centered, individualized analysis of factors related to the “child’s or youth’s best interest, including but not limited to 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.” 42 U.S.C. §11432(g)(3)(B)(ii). Therefore, if the LEA where the child is attending school, and the parent (or unaccompanied youth), determine that it is in the child’s best interest to stay in their school of origin, transportation must be provided, per the McKinney-Vento transportation provisions. Those provisions state that the two districts must split the cost if they cannot agree on another method to apportion costs.

Our child welfare agency has suddenly started placing multiple families on "safety plans." Essentially, the family is given the "option" to place their children with a caretaker instead of in foster care, while the parent completes requirements set by the child welfare agency. The children are not in the custody of the state, and the caretaker receives no support from the agency. Are these children McKinney-Vento eligible? Are they in foster care?

Answer: Unfortunately, this informal arrangement does not qualify the children as being in foster care. The child welfare agency avoids financial liability or custody of the children when using optional “safety plans.” Whether the child is McKinney-Vento eligible would depend on the living situation of the child with the caretaker. In general, the child likely would not be eligible, because the child is not with the caretaker “due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason.” However, as with many McKinney-Vento issues, it’s a case-by-case determination. For example, was the parent forced into the safety plan due to a loss of housing? Is the child sleeping on the couch in the living room? Is the caretaker violating her lease and in danger of eviction due to having the child there? Circumstances could qualify the child under McKinney-Vento.

A student has a severe allergy. The district wants to know who to list as emergency contact, as the parents are not involved, and there is no adult to sign the documents needed for an Epipen, etc. The student is currently doubled up with a district employee, CPS has been contacted, and the district is concerned about liability.

Answer: The emergency contact can be whomever the district wants. It can be the parents, even though they are not involved. (The district may want to leave the parents as the emergency contact for liability or other reasons, depending on the specifics of this situation.) It can be the liaison. (Again, the district may or may not want this due to liability concerns.) It can be the person the student is staying with in his/her capacity as caregiver, not as district employee. It can be a CPS worker of some kind. The only requirement under McKinney-Vento is that the question of who to list as emergency contact cannot delay enrollment, including full participation in school. If the student has an allergy emergency during the school day, then the appropriate school employee should respond rapidly and appropriately, following the protocols that are in place for such an event. I assume that would be administering an Epipen, if the student has one. If not, it would probably be calling an ambulance. Emergency medical teams will treat an emergency without any adult consent. If the district is concerned about liability, administrator should consider the possibility of the child having an allergic reaction alone and getting very ill or dying, when the child should have been in school surrounded by adults who could have dialed 911 and saved his/her life. Violating the McKinney-Vento Act certainly would be a significant aggravating factor in a civil lawsuit should something happen to the student while the school is illegally keeping him out of school.

If we were to form a support group available to McKinney-Vento students at our high school, would that fall under the segregation prohibition?

Answer: No, that would be fine, because it is extra-curricular and does not replace any regular academics or school activities. You’d need to be careful about stigma— so thinking about where and when the group meets, what it is called, how you advertise it, etc. But it wouldn’t be a segregation violation. It sounds like a great idea. We’re always amazed when our scholars say they’d never known there were other students like them, and how empowering it is for them to be together and share their stories.

Can Title IA homeless set-aside funds be used to support McKinney-Vento students in private schools?

Answer: No. As we examined the text of the law, the issue we were trying to resolve was the meaning of the phrase “in the local educational agency.” The set-aside language says the set-aside is for: “homeless children and youths, including providing educationally related support services to children in shelters and other locations where children may live;” and that the amount should be “determined based on a needs assessment of homeless children and youths in the local educational agency, taking into consideration the number and needs of homeless children and youths in the local educational agency.” Our question was: does the phrase “homeless children and youths in the local educational agency” mean only those attending public schools? Or would it include any homeless children and youth physically in the LEA and being served by the LEA in any form (including by Title I equitable participation funds that go to private schools)? We have come to the conclusion that homeless students attending non-public schools are not in the LEA but rather served by the LEA. If Congress had meant to say “served by”, they could have said that. The distinction is important and not one to interpret without deliberate consideration. That distinction means the set-aside cannot be used for private school students. Other Title I funds certainly could be used for non-public school students, including those who are homeless. The private school or equitable participation reservation absolutely could be used for that. But not the set-aside. Our conclusion is that these are two different Title I “pots” for two different purposes – one for public (the homeless set-aside) and one for private/non public. Our colleagues at NCHE came to the same conclusion.

Since ESSA, LEAs are required to ensure unaccompanied homeless youth are informed of their status as independent students and get assistance from the liaison to get a letter verifying their status for the FAFSA. Should LEAs also provide letters for McKinney-Vento students still living with a parent?

Answer: In terms of federal financial aid, there is no benefit or difference in the application for youth who are homeless with their families as compared to non-homeless youth with their families. Therefore, there would be no reason for those students to have a letter for federal financial aid. However, there may be other kinds of scholarships for which a letter like that could be very helpful. The letter could show the challenges the student has faced, it could explain any periods on the student’s transcript where grades suddenly dropped, etc. It even could be helpful with admissions. So it would be a good practice for counselors or teachers to write letters like that for all their McKinney-Vento students. It is not required.

When was the term "doubled up" added to the McKinney-Vento homeless definition? I'm having a hard time tracking down the correct amendments.

Answer: The term “doubled up” does not appear in the McKinney-Vento Act, which explains why you are having trouble finding it! It is a shorthand that some people use to refer to this section of the definition: “children and youths who are sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason.” The citation is 42 USC 11434A(2)(B)(i). This language appeared in Guidance from the US Department of Education in 1995. It was moved from the Guidance into the statute in 2001, as part of the No Child Left Behind Act. It was not changed by the Every Student Succeeds Act.

A college has sent a student, who graduated from our district in 2015, back to me for a letter verifying his unaccompanied homeless youth status. Is that how the process is supposed to work?

Answer: No. The federal guidance for financial aid, called the Application and Verification Guide (https://ifap.ed.gov/fsahandbook/attachments/1819FSAHbkAVG.pdf) states that the financial aid administrator must make the determination of unaccompanied homeless youth status if the student does not have a determination from another authority. (AVG-117). The financial aid administrator should not send a student back to you when that student graduated in 2015. It’s not reasonable to expect the school to have information about the student’s situation 3 years after graduation, or to require the student to return to her high school for this assistance. If you do have enough information to provide the student with the determination, you MAY do that. (AVG-118) But you are not required to do it. This really is the financial aid administrator’s role.

I have a graduating senior who was identified as an unaccompanied homeless youth at the start of the school year. The student reports being in and out of the parent's unstable home over the past few years, couch surfing, and currently staying with a family friend. The college financial aid office has told the student that the unaccompanied homeless youth FAFSA letter from the school district is an error because the student has stayed at the mother's home at times.

Answer: The short answer is that the college financial aid office is wrong. The federal guidance for financial aid, called the Application and Verification Guide (https://ifap.ed.gov/fsahandbook/attachments/1819FSAHbkAVG.pdf) states: “Unaccompanied homeless youth (56–58). A student is independent if at any time on or after July 1, 2017 (irrespective of whether he is currently homeless or at risk thereof) he is determined to be an unaccompanied youth who is homeless or is self-supporting and at risk of being homeless.” (Page 31 of the document, or page AVG-27). Neither the student’s current status nor his intermittent stays with his mother matter – the student simply needs to have been determined to be an unaccompanied homeless youth after July 1. Elsewhere in this document, on pp. 121-122, or AVG-117-118, the guidance makes clear that financial aid administrators must use the McKinney-Vento definition, and must accept determinations from liaisons.

Can you explain the basic structure of McKinney-Vento funding?

Answer: The most recent federal appropriation for the McKinney-Vento Education of Homeless Children and Youth program was $85 million dollars, the highest appropriation ever and an increase of over 10% compared to the previous year. This McKinney-Vento funding is allocated to states by the federal government based on the state’s percentage share of poverty, the same as Title I funds. The amount of state allocations are available online at: https://www2.ed.gov/about/overview/budget/statetables/19stbyprogram.pdf (see page 15). The state can retain up to 25% of the funds at the state level for administration and they must distribute at least 75% to LEAs through a competitive subgrant process. States that receive the minimum allocation ($150,000) can retain up to 50% at the state level.

If a parent experiencing homelessness chooses to withdraw her child from the school of origin and enroll in a charter school, will the child receive transportation to the charter school?

Answer: Transportation is required to the school of origin, while the student is homeless and until the end of the academic year in which she finds housing (assuming it is in the child’s best interest to remain in the school of origin). If the family chooses to change to a charter school, the child will receive transportation comparable to what other students would receive. So if the charter school does not provide transportation to its students, this child also will not be entitled to transportation. The only exception would be if the lack of transportation presents a particular barrier to enrollment.

Question on the allowable use of Title 1A homeless reservation and how to calculate (or define) "excess cost" of transportation. If an LEA does not provide high school students with transportation, then would the entire cost to transport a homeless high school student be considered "excess" and therefore an allowable Title 1 A set aside expense?

Answer: Yes, with a couple of caveats. Normally, to calculate the excess cost, you’re looking at the difference between the transportation being provided to the McKinney-Vento student and what the district typically would provide other students. So in this case, since the district provides no transportation at all, the entire cost would be excess.

Two caveats:

  1. Make sure the student isn’t entitled to transportation for some other reason, such as pursuant to an IEP
  2. The district cannot use its entire set-aside to pay for transportation. The set-aside must provide McKinney-Vento students with services comparable to those provided to other Title I students.

So the set-aside must provide those other, comparable services first (e.g. tutoring or graduation coaching for your high schoolers, etc.), and then can be used to cover excess transportation costs with the money left over. Ultimately, this particular district might need to increase its Title IA set-aside amount if it’s going to dip into it significantly to cover transportation costs.

A student has been transported to the school of origin during this school year. If the student is re-identified next school year as McKinney-Vento eligible, can the student continue to attend the school of origin, and receive transportation?

Answer: “Yes. Students retain the right to stay in their school of origin – and the right to transportation to their school of origin – for the duration of their homelessness, provided that staying in their school of origin continues to be in their best interest. The best interest decision must take into account student-centered factors, including factors related to the impact of mobility on achievement, education, health, and safety. It also must prioritize the wishes of the parent or, for unaccompanied youth, the youth.

If, after this best interest determination, the LEA determines that it is not in the youth’s best interest to continue in the school of origin, it must provide the child’s or youth’s parent or guardian, or the unaccompanied youth, with a written explanation of the reasons for its determination, including information regarding the right to appeal.

So, all of that is to say that if the student is still homeless at the beginning of next school year, you would need to do a best interest determination; if it still in his or her best interest to attend the school of origin in the next school year, transportation must be provided.”

I am in the process of changing the form that helps to identify if a student is in transition for our enrollment centers and the schools. First, we are changing the name from Residency Quesionnaire to Housing Questionnaire. Second, we've required parents to get the form notarized. We want to eliminate that requirement, but some statutory language to support that change would be very helpful.

Answer: “Yes, a housing questionnaire is a better name, and I am glad that you are eliminating the barrier of the affidavit! The law does not mention affidavits in particular, but it does require that enrollment be immediate, even if the child or youth is unable to produce proof of residency or other documentation. 42 U.S.C. §11432(g)(3)(C). McKinney-Vento families do not have to provide proof of residency, so a school district requirement that they do so, or sign affidavits, or have a document notarized, violates the law. In addition, the law requires: “”(I) A demonstration that the State educational agency and local educational agencies in the State have developed, and shall review and revise, policies to remove barriers to the identification of homeless children and youths, and the enrollment and retention of homeless children and youths in schools in the State, including barriers to enrollment and retention due to outstanding fees or fines, or absences.”” Requiring a notarized affidavit is both a barrier to identification (some parents might not want to reveal their situation if they can’t access a notary or are just intimidated by the word affidavit) and a barrier to immediate enrollment (what if the notary is out sick, or for parents who are not at the enrollment center).”

Family living in District C lost housing 2 years ago and began doubling up in District A. Family enrolled in District A, so there have not been any inter-district transportation needs. Now family moved and is doubled up in District B. District A is asking about who should be sharing transportation with them -- District B, or District C?

Answer: “I look at this in 2 steps. First, what does MV say about paying for school of origin transportation when the student moves out of district: the local educational agency of origin and the local educational agency in which the child or youth is living shall agree upon a method to apportion the responsibility and costs for providing the child or youth with transportation to and from the school of origin. If the local educational agencies are unable to agree upon such method, the responsibility and costs for transportation shall be shared equally.” (42 USC 11432(g)(1)(J)(iii)(II))

So the LEA where living is easy— that’s now District B.

Second, what is the LEA of origin? The LEA of origin in this situation is District A since that is the school of origin the students are attending. It is correct that the definition of the school of origin includes the school that a child or youth attended when permanently housed or the school in which the child or youth was last enrolled, including a preschool. So technically, one student can have two “schools of origin”. But when it comes to transportation, the real question is which school of origin is the child attending— i.e. which school are they seeking transportation to/from. In this case, that’s District A. So District A is the only school of origin that matters. So in this situation, District A and District B “shall agree upon a method to apportion the responsibility and costs” of transportation to the District A school. Or the state could establish a policy that one or the other district pays. Or, if there is no state policy and they can’t agree, they can split it 50/50.”

One of our community partners has raised concerns about housing youth in low-income housing funded by the USDA. Are there restrictions on who can be housed in that housing?

Answer: The USDA offers a variety of housing programs, so any restrictions probably would depend on exactly which USDA program is providing the funding for the housing. More information is available here.

We have a student who ran away due to conflict/neglect in the home and became McKinney-Vento eligible, and then returned home several months later. Can he still receive free school meals? Can his parent refuse free school meals? Do his McKinney-Vento rights still apply until the end of the school year?

Answer: Automatic eligibility for school meals is part of the Russell School Lunch Act. That law provides continued eligibility for McKinney-Vento students for the rest of the school year and into the first 30 days of the next school year. However, parents do have the right to refuse school meals. This situation is tricky because the student has returned to live with his parents. He does not meet the unaccompanied youth definition any longer. He’s still eligible for all McKinney-Vento services for the rest of the school year, and he’s eligible for school meals for the rest of the year. But since he is back in the physical custody of his parents, his parents have rights, too. They can refuse school meals. McKinney-Vento provides some special independence for unaccompanied youth. But once the youth is back with parents, the youth is not unaccompanied, so regular parental rights kick back in.

I've been looking for a template to inform parents that they need to contact our office with their address if still in transition when school begins in August. Could you provide some guidance?

Answer: In general, these end-of-year efforts should strive to ensure the integrity of McKinney-Vento eligibility between academic years, but also take into consideration the known mobility and communication difficulties faced by parents and students experiencing homelessness. To that end, we’d suggest that the information:

  1. Request parents to inform you if they have permanent housing at the start of the school year, rather than asking if they are still in transition. Approaching continued eligibility that way errs on the side of including children and youth as eligible at the beginning of the year, and acknowledges the lapses in communication that are inherent with homeless families.
  2. Be sent to parents via text, or communicated in a way other than a traditional letter “home”, that it is more likely to reach them. We realize that calling all parents is not always feasible, but it may be the best way to get the information to them.
Does a private college/university have to acknowledge an unaccompanied youth's homeless status as part of the FAFSA rules/requirements? Do they have to accept a homeless verification form from a McKinney-Vento liaison?

Answer: Yes. Any institution that offers federal financial aid has to follow the same FAFSA rules. So they have to accept a liaison’s verification of unaccompanied youth status and treat the student as independent for the FAFSA.

 

A McKinney-Vento eligible family just arrived in our district to enroll a 7-year old child with autism. We were told he can’t come to school today because there will be a substitute teacher, and he can’t ride the special education bus until he gets evaluated for special education. Shouldn’t the school make accommodations for him?

Answer: Yes. The school should work with the parent to start special education evaluations immediately. The Dept. of Education encourages expedited evaluations for McKinney-Vento students. See this letter. While evaluations are underway, the school can put appropriate interventions in place. Keeping the student out of school violates both the McKinney-Vento Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Also, McKinney-Vento students can ride a special education bus even without being evaluated or determined eligible for special education yet. See this letter.

Can school districts provide gas cards to parents or youth?

Answer: Yes. Page 31 of the US Dept. of Education EHCY Guidance (https://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/leg/essa/160240ehcyguidance072716updated0317.pdf) refers to gas cards as a strategy to provide transportation to McKinney-Vento students. There is no requirement that a district provides gas cards. The requirements are to provide transportation to the school of origin, and to provide transportation to remove barriers to full participation. However, it stands to reason that a school district would want to meet those requirements in the most cost-effective manner, and gas cards often are that manner. For that reason, it is extremely common that gas cards are part of a district’s strategy to provide required transportation.

A district is requiring families experiencing homelessness to sign an enrollment affidavit stating the family will remain in the school district. Enrollment is depending on this affidavit being completed and signed by a parent. I know this is a violation of McKinney-Vento, but can you point me to the exact language and citations?

Answer: The particular language in this enrollment affidavit creates a barrier to the immediate enrollment of McKinney-Vento students. The McKinney-Vento Act requires immediate enrollment and revision of any policies that create a barrier to enrollment. 42 USC 11432(g)(1)(I). Families experiencing homelessness often have no way to know where they will reside from one night to the next. They often cannot express an intent to remain in a particular school district, and such an intent is not a requirement for immediate enrollment. The school district must provide immediate enrollment “in any public school that nonhomeless students who live in the attendance area in which the child or youth is actually living are eligible to attend.” 42 USC 11432(g)(3)(A)(ii). This refers to where the child or youth “is actually living” at the time of enrollment. Where the family may live in the future or where they might intend to settle does not affect their right to immediate enrollment. In addition, the affidavit appears to require the signature of a parent or legal guardian. That creates a barrier to the immediate enrollment of unaccompanied homeless youth. The McKinney-Vento Act requires the removal of barriers related to guardianship issues. 42 USC 11432(g)(1)(H)(iv). The school cannot require the signature of a parent or legal guardian to enroll an unaccompanied youth. Youth can enroll themselves, or an administrator at the school can sign-off on enrollment.

A service provider at one of our schools will not share information about students due to “42 CFR Part 2.” What is this regulation?

Answer: This is a regulation specifically about disclosing information about substance abuse. https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/42/part-2 If this professional is providing substance abuse counseling, she does need consent to share that information. Other information would fall under FERPA.

We have a McKinney-Vento student participating in a special program providing coordinated activities to promote movement from school to post-school activities. The student’s guardian has found a volunteer career opportunity related to the program’s goals. Are we required to provide transportation to that volunteer position?

Answer: It probably depends on how the position fits into your program. Is a volunteer opportunity of this type usually part of the program? In other words, could it be said that the guardian saved the school some work by finding an appropriate volunteer opportunity, which otherwise the school would have had to secure? If so, I think there’s a strong argument to require the transportation, because this would be considered a school activity as part of the career transition program.

If a parent sets up a notarized “kinship care” relationship for her children with a relative, is the child considered homeless?

Answer: The term “kinship care” is used in many different ways, so it depends on the nature of the placement. If a child welfare agency places a child in kinship care, the child is considered to be in foster care, and would not be McKinney-Vento eligible (but would be eligible for ESSA’s protections for children in foster care). However, the way you describe this “kinship care” document, it sounds like a power of attorney a parent might sign over to another person who is caring for their child temporarily. In that case, the document itself isn’t the issue—the question would be whether the parent or child lacks a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence. If the parent is homeless and is placing her child with someone else, the child would be McKinney-Vento eligible. If the kinship care arrangement itself is a homeless situation, the child would be McKinney-Vento eligible.

If a family is forced out of their home due to foreclosure, and relocates to a less expensive residence in another school attendance area, is the family eligible for assistance under McKinney-Vento?

Answer: No, based on the information that you provided. It appears the family moved directly from one fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence to another fixed, regular, and adequate residence. Therefore, they never experienced homelessness, and would not be eligible for the McKinney-Vento Act’s protections and services. The answer would be different if there were any extenuating factors that might change the analysis – for example, if the new residence is not fixed, regular, and adequate, or if the family stayed in a homeless situation in between the two residences.

I am meeting with our Title I, Transportation, & Student Services directors about whether we need an agreement or MOU with Dept. of Child & Family Services for situations with students who have been placed in foster care in an area outside their school of origin. Do you have resources or examples of other places with agreements or MOU's in place?

Answer: Yes. We put together a short document on this that might help. It is at https://www.schoolhouseconnection.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/FC-transportation-guide.pdf. It explains the legal responsibilities for students in foster care under ESSA, including transportation. On the second page, there are links to both a state-level and local-level example that might help serve as a guide for you.

Where should we store the yearly McKinney-Vento questionnaires we use to identify students experiencing homelessness? I have always told our registrars to keep them in a separate file and NOT in the cumulative file.

Answer: You are correct. Information about a McKinney-Vento student’s living situation is part of the child’s educational record, protected under FERPA. That means that only other school/district staff with a legitimate educational interest should be able to access that information without specific parental consent. It seems that keeping the questionnaires in the cumulative file could allow access to a number of school/district staff who do not have a legitimate educational interest in the information. So I would be concerned about violating FERPA by including those forms in the cumulative file. More information about FERPA is available in our April 4 webinar, “FERPA, Homelessness, and Foster Care.”

A college is requiring additional forms, signed by a parent, to verify a student’s unaccompanied homeless youth status for the FAFSA. The liaison already has provided verification. Can the college require the additional forms?

Answer: No. Here is a quote from the current Application and Verification Guide, which is the Dept. of Education guidance that financial aid administrators must follow: “You are not required to confirm the answers to the homeless youth questions unless you have conflicting information. A documented phone call with, or a written statement from, one of the relevant authorities is sufficient verification when needed… It is not conflicting information if you disagree with an authority’s determination that a student is homeless.” This information is found on the very last page of this document: https://ifap.ed.gov/fsahandbook/attachments/1819FSAHbkAVG.pdf. Since the liaison has provided appropriate verification of the student’s situation, the financial aid office should not request any additional information regarding his independent student status. Certainly, the office should not request anything that requires a parent’s signature, since the very nature of being an unaccompanied homeless youth means the youth does not have support from parents or access to parental information or signatures.

I have heard that the supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP or food stamps) is available to unaccompanied youth under the age of 18. However, I have had no success in making that happen in my state. I have tried to find policies or laws about this practice but have been unsuccessful in that respect as well. Can you please provide guidance?

Answer: You are exactly right that unaccompanied youth can access SNAP. There is no age limit and no requirement that youth live with their parents or apply with their parents. A memo from the USDA describes how unaccompanied homeless youth under the age of 18 are eligible for SNAP benefits.

Also, you can view a webinar about SNAP benefits for unaccompanied homeless youth, featuring our own Patricia Julianelle, Ty Jones of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and Courtney Smith of the Detroit Phoenix Center (and SHC Board member).

The length of time a student has a particular address doesn’t affect eligibility. There is no automatic homeless eligibility for SNAP (like there is for school meals). Eligibility is based on income, and “household” size. The definition of household is people who customarily purchase and prepare food together. The SNAP office could look at the length of time a student is in a particular place as part of determining whether the youth is part of the “household” with the other residents of the home. But really, how long a youth is in a particular home is not relevant—the issue is whether they purchase and prepare food together.

Bottom line, this student should qualify for SNAP— but if she is purchasing and preparing food with the boyfriend’s family, they might all be considered one “household”, and that would mean the entire family’s income would count. That might bump them out of eligibility.

We always enroll without birth certificate, immunizations etc. but we’ve had a few instances with parents not having anything at all with them, including identification. Are we to go ahead and enroll them into school without any type of identification?

Answer: Yes. You must immediately enroll students experiencing homelessness, even if they lack identification. The legal citation in the McKinney-Vento Act is 42 U.S.C. §11432(g)(3)(C). The next step, of course, is to work with the family to get identification, but they should be in school, attending, while that is happening. It might re-assure enrollment staff to let them know that you do work with families to obtain documentation, so that they know that it is forthcoming, with your assistance.

We have a 14-year old boy whose suspension ended and needed to re-enroll back in school. He is staying with his friend’s family. His friend’s mother called and asked if she could enroll the boy in school. The boy’s mother is very upset that her son is living with his friend’s family and that his friend’s mother would be allowed to enroll him into school. I gave his friend’s mother a caregiver form to enroll the student back into school. Did I handle the situation correctly?

Answer: Yes, you did the right thing. McKinney-Vento requires immediate enrollment in school for all youth experiencing homelessness, including unaccompanied homeless youth. The law also directs schools to review and revise policies that act as barriers to enrollment, specifically those barriers related to guardianship. You are following federal law, and that this specific issue has occurred in other states, with the rights of the youth upheld. Our job is to ensure that youth are in school, so that education is not disrupted during family struggles.

The mother still retains her parental rights, and she can access educational records and otherwise be involved with the student’s education. But as for other issues within the family, it is great to refer her to community services or other resources that can help the family with those issues. However, you are correct that the school’s legal obligation is to educate in compliance with the MV Act, and that is what you are doing.

Here are some legal citations to help:
• The McKinney-Vento Act requires schools to enroll students experiencing homelessness immediately, even if the student is unable to provide documents that are typically required for enrollment, such as previous academic records, records of immunization and other required health records, proof of residency, or other documentation. 42 U.S.C. §11432(g)(3)(C).
• Enroll means permitting the student to attend classes and participate fully in school activities. 42 U.S.C. §11434A(1).
• Lack of a legal guardian or guardianship documents cannot delay or prevent the enrollment of an unaccompanied youth. 42 U.S.C. §§11432(g)(3)(C), (g)(1)(H)(iv).
• The McKinney-Vento Act requires states and LEAs to eliminate barriers to identification, enrollment and retention and to enroll unaccompanied youth in school immediately. 42 U.S.C. §§11432(g)(1)(I), (g)(7).

We recently had a caregiver who claims to be a student’s father come in to our enrollment center and request school records for his daughter. He said he wanted the records so he could file taxes before her mother. He is not on the birth certificate, although the child is living with him. I feel leery about giving out records for domestic issues, especially to a person with no proof of his relationship.

Answer: FERPA’s rights are rights, meaning anyone who meets the definition of “parent” has the right to access educational records, for any purpose. Basically, the parents are the owners of the records. This person has no proof he is the biological or adoptive parent. However, he does appear to be “acting as a parent in the absence of a parent or guardian,” which meets the FERPA definition of “parent.”

Is the mother involved with the student? Is she requesting access to records, or has she stated she does not want this man to see records? If the answer to any of those questions is yes, the situation may be different. A biological parent’s rights beat the rights of a caregiver. That’s why FERPA says “in the absence of a parent or guardian.” So if mother is around and involved, you probably should contact her before releasing records to this caregiver.

If the mother is not around, then I think this caregiver does have the right to access educational records, for any purpose. If you are concerned about the caregiver, it couldn’t hurt to run a quick check on missingkids.org.

The Department of Education requires that LEAs provide transportation for extracurricular activities if the lack of transportation poses a barrier. Which activities are covered under this mandate? Would you call the Boys and Girls Club an extracurricular activity if it is not district-administered, but it is housed at the school? If so, does this depend on whether or not there is an academic component to the program?

Answer: In this scenario, the Boys and Girls Club probably is not an extracurricular activity, because it is not funded or administered by the LEA. The in-kind donation of space to a community agency wouldn’t rise to the level of making it an LEA activity. I don’t think the academic component would be a factor, unless the LEA was providing the academic component. If the Boys and Girls Club is providing an academic component, like tutoring or homework help, then transportation would be an allowable use of Title I set-aside funds. But it would not be required.

I have a student in my housing program who attends a charter school that does not provide transportation for any of their students. The school (which is the student’s school of origin) is telling the parent there is nothing they can do in terms of providing transport. But they should, right? What do I do if they are in fact not in compliance?

Answer: You are correct. The McKinney-Vento Act applies to charter schools. The school must provide transportation to the school of origin for the child, as long as continuing to attend the school of origin is in the child’s best interest.

As far as approaching the situation, you definitely should contact your state coordinator first, to ask for her assistance. It would be very good for her to know about this situation, so that she can step in if necessary. You also might reach out to the liaison for your school district, who might have a working relationship with the charter school, and who might be able to step in to help pave the way for a conversation.

What do we do when a McKinney-Vento student is causing problems on the bus? Can they be suspended off the bus?

Answer: This would depend on the nature of the “problems”, and other accommodations that might be put in place to address them. The bottom line is that the district does need to provide transportation to the school of origin. So while McKinney-Vento does not supersede discipline policies, it usually is in both the district’s and the student’s best interest to try to find a way to make the bus transportation work. If it is a serious safety issue, then the district may have to remove the student from the bus. In that case, the district will need to find another transportation option. If a parent driving is not an option, you may need to look at a taxi or other arrangement.

The only legal reason not to provide transportation to the school of origin is if a determination is made that it is not in the child’s best interest to remain at the school of origin. The behavior issue may rise to the level of changing the best interest determination, but there would be a lot of other factors involved in that determination.

We have a state law that says McKinney-Vento students have five days to produce immunization records, or they are withdrawn from school. How does that fit with McKinney-Vento?

Answer: It doesn’t fit, and the federal law supersedes your state law. This state statute conflicts with the McKinney-Vento Act. According to the US Constitution, Article VI, Clause 2, federal laws take precedence over state laws when there is a conflict. Therefore, schools in your state must follow the federal McKinney-Vento Act over and above any state laws.

As you know, the McKinney-Vento Act requires both state and local educational agencies to review and revise policies to remove barriers to the enrollment and retention of homeless children in school. 42 USC §11432(g)(1)(I). The Act also requires schools to enroll homeless children immediately, even if they lack records of immunization and other required health records. 42 USC §11432(g)(3)(C)(i)(I).

While this law and schools that follow it are providing immediate enrollment, they then create a barrier to enrollment and retention by suspending the child after five days. That violates the McKinney-Vento Act. Under the US Constitution, the school must follow federal law, not state law.

In collaborating with outside entities to serve students, how do we protect against violating FERPA or McKinney-Vento? Also, under FERPA, can we make referrals to outside programs and agencies to serve McKinney-Vento students and families?

Answer: In this context, if you are sharing personally-identifiable information with anyone outside the school system, you need parental consent under FERPA. You also need to make sure the collaboration and information-sharing don’t erect barriers to identification, enrollment or retention in school, under McKinney-Vento. For example, if a student does not want to be referred to a particular program or does not want information shared, and your collaboration could “scare” him away from school or make him not identify himself as homeless, that’s an illegal barrier under McKinney-Vento.

It’s always fine for you to provide a student or parent with information about available services. It’s also fine to offer to make the connection, and if the parent accepts, that is your consent. It’s probably best to get that in writing, though, in the form of a simple one-page consent.

Several liaisons have reported being told that a student cannot be evaluated for an IEP if they have too many absences from school, because it is impossible to prove whether the educational delays observed are due to missing school or a learning disability. Is this right?

Answer: No. That is not a correct interpretation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). School attendance patterns are important considerations when determining whether a student has a disability. LEAs cannot find a student eligible for special education “if the determinant factor for such determination is lack of appropriate instruction in reading… [or] lack of instruction in math….” 20 USC §1414(b)(5); 34 CFR §300.306. However, IDEA clearly states that such issues must be considered “upon completion of the administration of assessments and other evaluation measures.” 20 USC §1414(b)(4). They do not relieve the LEA of its statutory obligation to conduct an evaluation.

Therefore, although lack of instruction (absences) may be considered in determining eligibility for special education and related services, it is not a reason to refuse evaluation. The appropriate venue for that consideration is at the eligibility conference, once all assessments and evaluations have been completed.

There also is a letter from the Department of Education that touches on this issue in the context of Response to Intervention. The letter emphasizes that once a parent consents to an evaluation, it must not be delayed.

Can you provide the pros and cons of building-level liaisons? We currently do not have this model, but we are exploring our options to help provide more support for our McKinney Vento students.

Answer: The pros outweigh the cons when it comes to building level-liaisons. Building-level liaisons tend to be in much closer contact with students and families, and therefore in a better position for identification. They also may know the resources at the school site better, and therefore can expedite services to students. Further, they can help assist with training and coordination among building-level staff. The only real con I can think of is that it does require good training of the building-level liaisons, and clear lines of communication, especially with turnover. Our Guidelines for Designating LEA-Level and Building-Level McKinney-Vento Liaisons provides more information.

Can a student identified as homeless have more than one school of origin in a school year? For example, the student attends school A. Then they move and attend school B; then move again and attend school C. Does school B become the school of origin or does school A stay as their school of origin?

Answer: Both. A McKinney-Vento student can have more than one school of origin in a school year. School of origin is defined in the McKinney-Vento Act as “the school that a child or youth attended when permanently housed or the school in which the child or youth was last enrolled, including a preschool.” This is in the law in section 722(g)(3)(I).

In the example you gave, both school A and school B can be schools of origin, if school A is the school the child attended when permanently housed, and school B is the school in which the child was last enrolled.

This definition of school of origin is helpful in responding to situations where children and youth are highly mobile, and may not realize that they can return to the school that they were attending when permanently housed (or the school in which they were last enrolled).

We have a student who has left home and went to live with her father due to relationship issues with the mother. The mother has full custody of the student, however, the father retains educational rights. Would the student be considered housed based on the educational rights alone?

Answer: The mere fact of the father having educational rights does not equate to the student having a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence. I’d want to know more about the history of the student’s relationship with the father, and the extent to which the living situation is fixed, regular and adequate. For example, if the student has had little to no relationship with the father, and has not lived with the father much or for long, I’d be more inclined to see this as a McKinney-Vento situation – particularly if the father has not had any custody for the student for a while. Also, if the father himself does not have a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence, the student would meet the homeless definition.

We have a student who was homeless (doubled up) and now is staying with her father’s girlfriend. The father also lives there, but does not parent or provide for her. She only sleeps there (and I am not sure for how long). Can the homeless liaison document independent FAFSA status for her, since technically she is with her "parent'? Does the fact she was homeless during this senior year provide a basis for that independent status?

Answer: Yes, the liaison definitely can document independent student status for the FAFSA, because this student is and has been an unaccompanied homeless youth. I would argue she is homeless now, since her housing with her father is not stable and likely will end at some time soon. But regardless, under the Higher Education Act, she only has to have experienced homelessness at some point in the year in which the application is submitted. She definitely meets that criterion, so the liaison can write the verification letter for her. If she needs a sample letter, she can download our template.

Can you provide me with the legal references and timeline for transportation to the school of origin?

Answer: The McKinney-Vento Act states that: “The school selected in accordance with this paragraph [either the school of origin or local school] shall immediately enroll the homeless child or youth.” 42 USC 11432(g)(3)(c). The law then defines “enroll” to “include attending classes and participating fully in school activities.” 42 USC 11434A(1).

These legal provisions require that transportation be provided immediately, as the child cannot attend classes and participate fully in school activities if the child is not at school. While the statute does not define the word “immediately,” in normal usage, immediately means right away. Therefore, delays in transportation do not comply with the federal law.

The law also requires local educational agencies to “review and revise policies to remove barriers to the… enrollment and retention of homeless children and youth in schools….” 42 USC 11432(g)(1)(I).

Is a school district required to provide transportation to the student's day care? Many of our parents work, and dropping their students at a relative's house or a day care is the only way that they can work.

Answer: The McKinney-Vento Act requires schools to remove barriers to enrollment and retention in school. This could include dropping a child at day care. However, that accommodation probably is not strictly required if dropping a child at day care or a relative’s house is very different from what dropping off at home would be. For example, if it requires a taxi as opposed to a school bus, or would require a significantly longer ride, then it’s questionable whether that transportation would be strictly required.

It’s also worth asking what is done for other children. Other working parents run into the same dilemma. Are other children dropped off at day care? If so, that demonstrates, it’s a recognized barrier that the school is helping other parents address, and so should help homeless parents address, as well.

We have a young lady who was unaccompanied in her senior year. That year, we provided her a verification form for her FASFA application without a problem. This year, the financial aid office is asking for an updated letter. Can they require this? Can we provide it?

Answer: The U.S. Department of Education has changed their guidance to financial aid administrators (FAAs), and also to liaisons. ED now specifically says that liaisons may continue to submit letters of verification for unaccompanied homeless youth in subsequent years, up to age 23, as long as liaisons have the information that is necessary to make the determination of their homeless and unaccompanied status, or their status as at risk of homelessness, unaccompanied, and self-supporting.

Please see the sidebar on Application and Verification Guide (AVG)-118 for the instruction to FAAs (you can just search for “liaison”). Also, see pp. 48-49, Q-2, for the same information provided to liaisons.

I think you could let the school know about this new guidance, and then provide them with an updated letter (as long as you have the information needed to verify that she is homeless and unaccompanied, OR that she is at risk of homelessness, unaccompanied, and self-supporting).

If you don’t have the information to make the determination, the FAA must make the determination. They should not be sending students back to the high school. AVG-117 makes that really clear.

I have a question regarding children who have been in foster care and are still in the custody of the state, but are with parents for the 30 day trial period which the state does before they release a child from foster care. Would these children be considered homeless?

Answer: No. As long as the children are still in the custody of the state, they are considered to be in foster care, and therefore not homeless. Under the Fostering Connections Act, “foster care” means 24-hour substitute care for children placed away from their parents or guardians and for whom the child welfare agency has placement and care responsibility. This includes, but is not limited to, placements in foster family homes, foster homes of relatives, group homes, emergency shelters, residential facilities, child care institutions, and pre-adoptive homes. A child is in foster care in accordance with this definition regardless of whether the foster care facility is licensed and payments are made by the State, Tribal or local agency for the care of the child, whether adoption subsidy payments are being made prior to the finalization of an adoption, or whether there is Federal matching of any payments that are made. (45 C.F.R. §1355.20(a)). The Title I provisions in ESSA that provide children in foster care with educational rights, including the right to remain in the school of origin, would apply to the children in your example.

I am working with a recent high school graduate who is in a group home and is trying to apply to college. She took the ACT while in high school. She wants to see if she can get a fee waiver for having the test scores sent to colleges.

Answer: For the ACT fee waiver, the student must be currently enrolled in 11th or 12th grade. There’s good information on the waiver here: https://www.act.org/content/dam/act/unsecured/documents/FeeWaiver.pdf

A father and son recently moved in with someone just outside of our boundary line. Dad wants his son to continue at the school of origin. I have offered city bus passes, with assistance on how to navigate the city bus, but Dad declined the bus passes and requested a school bus to pick his son up. Do we have to provide the bus?

Answer: This probably depends on how reasonable the city bus ride is. For example, if a school bus would take 40 minutes for the trip, but the city bus is going to take 90 minutes, then the father’s objection would be reasonable. However, if the public bus is a reasonable mode of transportation, the McKinney-Vento Act does not give a parent the right to choose the mode of transportation. Perhaps having someone do the ride with the youth on the first day would help. That will have a cost associated with it, but it’s probably cheaper than running a school bus the rest of the year.

A McKinney-Vento subgrant program wants to use their funding, in part, to buy a washer and dryer. They will use that equipment in an after-school program to teach students who have left home (often due to parental substance abuse), how to wash their own clothes. This will provide a life skill along with providing clean clothes for students who are being bullied and often not attending school currently for hygiene issues. Can McKinney-Vento funds pay for the washer and dryer?

Answer: Yes. This could fit under several allowable uses found in 42 USC 11433(d):

“(7) The provision of services and assistance to attract, engage, and retain homeless children and youths, particularly homeless children and youths who are not enrolled in school, in public school programs and services provided to nonhomeless children and youths.” (The students are not coming to school due to hygiene and bullying)

“(12) The provision of specialized instructional support services (including violence prevention counseling) and referrals for such services.” (teaching how to wash, how to cook, etc.. The inclusion of “violence prevention counseling” as a specific example shows that the term “specialized instructional support services” is much broader than typical academics or coursework)

“(13) Activities to address the particular needs of homeless children and youths that may arise from domestic violence and parental mental health or substance abuse problems.” (Especially since the students will learn how to wash clothes, which is a skill they are not learning at home due to parental substance abuse)

“(16) The provision of other extraordinary or emergency assistance needed to enable homeless children and youths to attend school and participate fully in school activities.”

When a youth is not homeless because they have been living for many years in fixed, regular and adequate housing with a grandparent, but the grandparent is not the guardian, how should they apply for FAFSA?

Answer: If the grandparent is not the legal guardian, then the student is neither independent nor should provide the grandparent’s information.  The parents’ information would still be required.  The way to navigate this situation is to seek a “dependency override” from the financial aid office of the school she wishes to attend.  This involves explaining the situation and asking the financial aid administrator to make a discretionary determination of independence.

A good summary of independent students is available here: https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/fafsa/filling-out/dependency#dependency-questions

I’m writing to request confirmation that a student who missed the lottery in a magnet school is still eligible to enroll immediately, based on the Every Student Succeeds Act and McKinney-Vento, if the school has space in the specific grade level.

Answer: Yes, you are correct. The applicable language from the McKinney-Vento Act, as amended by ESSA, states:

“(C) IMMEDIATE ENROLLMENT-

(i) IN GENERAL.– The school selected in accordance with this paragraph shall immediately enroll the homeless child or youth, even if the child or youth—

(I) is unable to produce records normally required for enrollment, such as previous academic records, records of immunization and other required health records, proof of residency, or other documentation; or

(II) has missed application or enrollment deadlines during any period of homelessness.

The citation is 42 US Code section 11432(g)(3)(C). So if this student is appropriate for the magnet school, and the school has space, missing the lottery cannot be a barrier to his immediate enrollment.

I know that ESSA protects a homeless student’s address as part of the education record, and therefore cannot be disclosed as directory information, etc. Where is the citation to quote the statute for this?

Answer: That provision is: “(G) PRIVACY.—Information about a homeless child’s or youth’s living situation shall be treated as a student education record, and shall not be deemed to be directory information, under section 444 of the General Education Provisions Act (20 U.S.C. 1232g).” The citation is 42 U.S.C. 11432(g)(3)(G).

A high school student is living here with her mom and mom’s boyfriend in a camper. The park where they were staying (in our district) is closing for winter, so they must move. They are relocating their camper to another district. Is this McKinney-Vento for us? Can we keep this student in our district by providing transportation for student?

Answer: Yes and yes. Based on the information provided, the family meets the definition of homeless in the McKinney-Vento Act because they do not have a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence; this definition specifically includes children and youth who are living in trailers and campgrounds “due to lack of adequate alternative accommodations.”

The student therefore has the right to remain in her school of origin, if it is in her best interest. Assuming this is the case, the district must provide transportation to and from the school of origin, per the McKinney-Vento Act requirements. Since she will be crossing school district boundaries, your district and the district in which the family is camping must apportion cost and responsibility; in the case that there is a disagreement, the two districts are required to split the costs.

I’ve heard that ESSA requires more professional development, but I only see that requirement for liaisons. Does ESSA also require more professional development of all school staff?

Answer: Yes. Liaisons must ensure that: “(ix) school personnel providing services under this subtitle receive professional development and other support.”

When you consider which school personnel provide McKinney-Vento services, and think about everything McKinney-Vento covers, essentially all school staff are “providing services under this subtitle.”

Our district operates a preschool program that charges $600 per month. How should we serve McKinney-Vento children in that preschool?

Answer: From the information that you provided, it sounds like this program would meet the criteria for a preschool under the McKinney-Vento Act, because it is run by the LEA. However, the district is not required to pay McKinney-Vento children’s tuition, because that would not be “comparable” to what is provided to other children. Certainly, waiving the tuition or using Title I or other funds to pay the tuition is strongly recommended to remove barriers to enrollment, but it is not required under the Act.

For this kind of program, the McKinney-Vento protections come into play with respect to school of origin. Thus, if a child who is enrolled in this preschool program becomes homeless, the program would become a school of origin, and, if it were in the best interest of the child to continue to attend, transportation would be required (even if not provided to other children).

Can you point me in the direction of something that says unaccompanied youth can check themselves out of school for doctor appointments?

Answer: The McKinney-Vento Act requires immediate enrollment, which includes attending classes and participating fully in school activities. 42 USC 11432(g)(3)(C) and 11434a(1).  The Act also requires the SEAs and LEAs revise policies to eliminate barriers to enrollment and retention in school. 42 USC 11432(g)(1)(I). The bottom line is that the district must have some mechanism in place so that unaccompanied youth can participate fully and don’t face barriers to enrollment or retention. That requires some policy to be sure youth can leave for doctor appointments (in addition to many other things). It does not require that youth be allowed to check themselves out. But if not the youth, then the principal, or liaison, or social worker, or someone else has to do it. There has to be a policy in place that works, and that does not create barriers for the youth.

I am working with a young lady who is on track to graduate this year. Her sister was awarded guardianship of her May 2017. She was an unaccompanied youth last May when I met her, but has not qualified as unaccompanied or homeless even one day this school year. How should she complete the FAFSA?

Answer: She cannot complete the FAFSA as an unaccompanied homeless youth, because she would’ve had to have been in that status after July 1, 2017. However, she still qualifies as independent because of the guardianship. See: https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/fafsa/filling-out/dependency. “Has it been determined by a court in your state of legal residence that you are an emancipated minor or that someone other than your parent or stepparent has legal guardianship of you? (You also should answer “Yes” if you are now an adult but were in legal guardianship or were an emancipated minor immediately before you reached the age of being an adult in your state. Answer “No” if the court papers say “custody” rather than “guardianship.”)”

She can check that box, and then fill out the FAFSA just like your unaccompanied youth— using only her information.

At what age is it acceptable for unaccompanied youth to sign their own documents?

Answer: Unaccompanied youth must be able to participate fully, and immediately. School districts have flexibility in how they implement these policies, but their policies cannot pose barriers. If a caregiver is reluctant to sign, that could be a barrier; the school then must find another way to comply. It could be the youth himself or herself; it could be the liaison, or other designated staff. But there has to be a policy that does not present new barriers.

The bottom line is that the law requires immediate enrollment, and the definition of enrollment is “attending classes and participating fully in school activities.” The law further requires local educational agencies to review and revise policies that act as barriers to identification, enrollment, and retention.

How do we handle enrollment for a McKinney-Vento student when we have two laws that are in direct opposition to one another: McKinney Vento requiring immediate enrollment and removing barriers, versus a state law requiring a medical plan in place prior to enrollment.

Answer: Article VI, Clause 2 of the US Constitution (commonly known as the Supremacy Clause) requires that federal law be followed. That constitutional language is:

“This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.”

In this case, the conflicting state law is superseded by the McKinney-Vento Act, and the child must be enrolled in school immediately. As you know, the McKinney-Vento Act is clear:

“(C) IMMEDIATE ENROLLMENT-

(i) IN GENERAL.– The school selected in accordance with this paragraph shall immediately enroll the homeless child or youth, even if the child or youth—is unable to produce records normally required for enrollment, such as previous academic records, records of immunization and other required health records, proof of residency, or other documentation;” 42 USC 11432(g)(3)(C).

A McKinney-Vento student is enrolled in school A, and now is living in the attendance area for school B. She was emergency expelled from school A due to posting on social media a credible threat of violence against several school peers. How should we proceed?

Answer: The student is subject to the same discipline regarding the threat of violence as any other student would be. Once she is through that process, she can return to school A as her school of origin (assuming that is not against the discipline policy), or enroll in school B. The question would be her best interest. Given the nature of the social media threat, it would appear that returning to school A is not in her best interest. You also said she prefers school B, which weighs heavily in school B’s favor.

Of course it is advisable to provide appropriate mental health supports and other assistance with housing, employment and stability. A school psychologist or mental health provider might want to consider whether an evaluation for special education support is advisable.

I’m helping an unaccompanied homeless youth and the family that he is living with to complete the FAFSA. I’m wondering how to advise them if his birth mother is still claiming him as a dependent.

Answer: The issue of tax claims is completely separate from the FAFSA independent student status. The FAFSA status is based on the youth’s living situation. As long as the student is determined to be unaccompanied and homeless in the year in which he is submitting the application, he is considered an independent student for the FAFSA, regardless of whether or not he is fraudulently claimed by someone as a dependent on their taxes.

A parent or another person’s decision to claim a youth as a dependent on their taxes reflects on the parent or on the person making the claim; that person may be subject to penalties for unlawfully claiming a youth as a dependent. The key point is that the parent or other person’s actions should not subject the youth to penalties or make them ineligible for independent student status on the FAFSA, as long as the youth is abiding by the tax laws applicable to his own income and does not personally benefit from the parent or other person’s unlawful actions.

I know it is confusing because both the FAFSA and the IRS use the term “dependent,” but they are different matters.

A student left our district and has enrolled in school near her grandmother’s home, where she is staying. She has been identified as McKinney-Vento eligible. Her mother wants her back at our school. Our principal is concerned that the mother might sue us if we release the records to the new school.

Answer: You should release the records. Since the student has been identified as McKinney-Vento eligible (which appears to be an appropriate identification based on the information you provided), you are obligated to eliminate barriers to enrollment and transfer records to the enrolling school. In addition, under FERPA, parental consent is not required to release records to a school to which a student has transferred.

We have several statewide virtual schools that do not have students meet at a local school site, ever. Sometimes, the resident Liaison has been asked to check on the family or youth to see that they actually live in the state. We have a case in which the parent is refusing to meet with a local Liaison. How might we proceed?

Answer: This would follow the same process as any McKinney-Vento scenario where if there is a concern about eligibility. The virtual school liaison could provide the parent with written notice that they are making a determination of ineligibility unless the parent will meet with the local liaison. If the parent still refuses to meet, then they could provide written notice of ineligibility and information about how to appeal through the dispute process. The student must be allowed to continue in the virtual school until the dispute reaches its final resolution.

For students who do not come directly from high school, how should colleges/universities acquire an unaccompanied youth verification for students for FAFSA purposes?

Answer: Here is the latest letter from ED on this:

https://ifap.ed.gov/dpcletters/attachments/GEN1516Attach.pdf

There is some new information on page 116 of the latest AVG about liaisons providing verifications for students after high school. That IS allowed, if the liaison has the information necessary to verify the student’s status.  “Also, local liaisons may write subsequent year letters of verification for unaccompanied homeless youth through age 23 for whom they have the necessary information to write such letters.”

https://ifap.ed.gov/fsahandbook/attachments/1718AVG.pdf

However, if the liaison does not have the information, and the youth is not connected to a HUD or RHYA program (as most are not), the FAA at the university has both the authority and the obligation to make the determination.

We have some information on this, as well as a sample verification form, on our website: https://www.schoolhouseconnection.org/higher-education/

We have a 17 year old unaccompanied youth who wants to attend an overnight field trip with her class. The parent called and said he does not want her to attend and will not sign the permission form. Can the student still sign for herself?

Answer: Under McKinney-Vento, schools are required to review and revise policies and practices that are barriers to enrollment. Enrollment is defined as attending classes and participating fully in school activities. An overnight field trip with a class sounds like a school activity. Therefore, the school must find a way for the unaccompanied homeless youth to participate in the school activity. This could include signature by the youth herself, the liaison, or a caretaker – very similar methods to how unaccompanied youth enroll in school without parents, and over parental objections.

One concern: Since the student is still a minor, and the parent is specifically saying she does NOT want the student to go on this field trip, it definitely opens the district up to liability. McKinney-Vento acts somewhat as a shield, but it is a risk if there were to be an accident or other problem on the trip. It may be a good idea to talk to the school district lawyer about it.

Follow up note: This liaison spoke with the district lawyer, who agreed that it was ok for the student to go on the field trip, since she is on her own.

Who can consent to assess a student for special education or anything to do with the IEP process, if a student is an unaccompanied minor basically living on their own? I have a junior who was with his dad, living with dad’s friend, and then dad died. He is still with dad’s friend who eventually will become a permanent guardian, but what about in the meantime?

Answer: This is a good question, as it can be complicated under special education law and regulations. A detailed publication about this issue is available here.

The very short answer is that dad’s friend can make special education decisions, since he essentially meets the IDEA’s definition of “parent” at this point. Your district’s Designation of Responsible Adult form probably helps to make that official for education purposes.

A liaison should not make special education decisions, as it could be seen as a conflict of interest (a school district employee making decisions about costly special education services— you could see where the appearance of a potential conflict could arise). However, liaisons can function as “temporary surrogate parents”, just for unaccompanied youth, while the district goes about designating an appropriate surrogate parent.

Can you provide something in writing that confirms schools:

  1. Cannot require proof of guardianship to enroll a student
  2. Cannot withhold lunch due to non-payment of accrued debt

Answer: Yes. For the free meals issue, look at page 6 of this brief: https://nche.ed.gov/downloads/briefs/nutrition.pdf

For immediate enrollment, look at pages 4 and 5 of this: https://nche.ed.gov/downloads/briefs/youth.pdf

A 14-year-old student resides with his mother and is attending District A. He has a father in District B, whom he sees on some weekends and holidays. There is no formal custody agreement. When the student’s mother went into a mental health facility unexpectedly, he moved in with his father in District B while his mother is hospitalized. The plan is for him to return to his mother’s home after her hospitalization. Is the student McKinney-Vento eligible?

Answer: As with so many of these challenging situations, it is hard to give a definitive answer without more information. In this situation, we would be considering whether the sudden hospitalization of a parent could be viewed as a reason for sharing housing of others that is “similar to” loss of housing, and therefore qualify for MV.

If there were a custody agreement, he probably wouldn’t be McKinney-Vento eligible, because he would have fixed, regular residence (FRA) with his dad. If there was a no-visitation order, then he’d definitely be McKinney-Vento, because a court has found that dad is not safe for him, and he should not be there.

In this case, since there appears not to be a no-visitation order, if dad has FRA for the son, the student probably is not McKinney-Vento eligible.  But depending on more information, including the conditions of dad’s living situation (is it FRA?), that determination could change.

For unaccompanied youth, with whom should the school work on issues of school enrollment, disputes, etc.: the youth, or parents? We have a situation where the youth wants to enroll in school near where he is staying, but the parents do not want him enrolled there, and in fact are arguing that he is not homeless.

Answer: The school should work with the unaccompanied youth, but may also provide services or referrals to the parent. ESSA made this clear by amending the language around school placement and enrollment of unaccompanied youth. The new language is “give priority to” the views of unaccompanied youth, where it used to say “consider”:

“(iv) in the case of an unaccompanied youth, ensure that the local educational agency liaison designated under paragraph (1)(J)(ii) assists in placement or enrollment decisions under this subparagraph, gives priority to the views of such unaccompanied youth, and provides notice to such youth of the right to appeal under subparagraph (E).”  42 USC 11432(g)(3)(A)(iv)

Also, throughout the law, including in the dispute language, the law uses the phrase “the parent or guardian of the child or youth or (in the case of an unaccompanied youth) the youth”.

It’s clearly “or”: the parent or guardian OR the unaccompanied youth.  It doesn’t say AND.  So I think only the youth has the right to access the dispute process.  I realize that leaves schools at the mercy of angry parents. Finessing that relationship, referring families for counseling and family reunification services in the community, etc. are really critical.

Can a district use Title IA funds to reimburse a shelter for the cost of transportation for McKinney-Vento students?

Answer: Yes, that should be allowable, as long as the transportation provided by the shelter is cost-effective. McKinney-Vento allows the LEA to provide or arrange transportation, thereby giving the LEA some discretion to choose the method of transportation, as long as it is appropriate. In this case, if the shelter has the capacity to provide appropriate and cost-effective transportation, the use of Title I funds would be allowable in the same way as it would be to reimburse a parent or provide a school bus. Many areas are struggling with school bus and driver shortages, so this might make excellent sense.

It probably goes without saying, but if the shelter cost is significantly more expensive than other available methods, that likely would be a red flag for an auditor.

A concern to keep in mind would be to ensure the shelter transportation does not stigmatize the children. One of our Board members has horrible stories about being driven to high school in a van that had the name of her shelter in giant letters on the side. Due to that shelter van, everyone knew she lived in the shelter, and she felt a lot of stigma and discrimination as a result. So I would keep that in mind and ensure the transportation avoids stigma.

A school is pursuing “consequences” for a student who is tardy almost daily. The parent is refusing to speak with the attendance/truancy team, and they are all at odds with each other. How does McKinney-Vento apply?

Answer: The school is within its rights to put interventions in place to improve attendance and tardiness. You are right that the school cannot punish tardiness due to homelessness. But, if the school takes steps like providing an alarm clock, putting something enticing in place first thing in the morning to encourage on-time arrival (an activity, breakfast, etc.), making sure appropriate transportation is available, etc., and the student just never shows up on time, the school can try interventions it would use with housed students. Of course, ideally those interventions would be positive and not punitive, since punitive interventions have been shown to be ineffective in most cases.

We know that McKinney-Vento students can enroll in 1) school of origin, or 2) the school serving the area where the student is currently sleeping. However, I have been told by the state McKinney-Vento Coordinator that the school the student attended when last stably housed also is an option. Is this correct?

Answer: Your state MV representative is exactly right. School of origin is defined in the McKinney-Vento Act as “the school that a child or youth attended when permanently housed or the school in which the child or youth was last enrolled, including a preschool.” This is in the law in section 722(g)(3)(I).

You described a situation of a student who was enrolled in District A in 2014-15 and 2015-16. Then, the family moved across the state, and the student enrolled in District B. He was enrolled there for about a month and has not been enrolled anywhere since spring of last year. The family is now staying temporarily in a motel in District C (which happens to be a relatively short distance from District A). The family reports that they plan to return to the District A area and would like the student to enroll there if possible. They say that they have multiple apartment applications that they are awaiting the call back for in District A and that is also where they have family and friends. The only reason they are not in a motel in that area is that there are no motels available there.

In this situation, it sounds like District A was the school the child attended when permanently housed. So the child has the right to return there now, if that is in the child’s best interest. Considering the child attended there for a long time, the family is looking for housing in that district, the distance is relatively short, and how much time the child has been out of school, it seems like the stability of returning to District A would be in his best interest.

Could you give me the exact citation to the ESSA changes that require districts award partial credits to McKinney-Vento students?

Answer: The citations and language are:

“youths described in section 725(2) and youths separated from public schools are identified and accorded equal access to appropriate secondary education and support services, including by identifying and removing barriers that prevent youths described in this clause from receiving appropriate credit for full or partial coursework satisfactorily completed while attending a prior school, in accordance with State, local, and school policies.”  42 USC 11432(g)(1)(F)(ii)

and

“Each local educational agency liaison for homeless children and youths, designated under paragraph (1)(J)(ii), shall ensure that …unaccompanied youths… have opportunities to meet the same challenging State academic standards as the State establishes for other children and youth, including through implementation of the procedures under paragraph (1)(F)(ii)” 42 USC 11432(g)(6)(A)(x)(II)

Is someone in a Rapid Re-housing program eligible for McKinney-Vento services?

Answer: It is hard to give a definitive answer for all programs that are called Rapid Rehousing. Whether or not the housing program would meet the McKinney-Vento education subtitle definition of homelessness hinges on what kind of housing actually is being provided, and the terms of the housing. In general, we recommend considering whether the housing is more like a Section 8 voucher (not McKinney-Vento education eligible) or more like transitional housing (definitely McKinney-Vento education eligible). The labels are less important than whether the conditions of the housing can legitimately be considered fixed, regular and adequate under the education definition.

Depending on the specifics, programs labeled as Housing First, Permanent Supportive Housing, and Rapid Rehousing certainly could qualify as “homeless” for education purposes.

For example, recently, we worked through a situation where a family was provided a voucher for housing in an adequate, independent apartment, scattered site, with no required services or hoops to jump through, and with the understanding that over time (1-2 years) the family gradually would take over the rent. The lease was in the family’s name, and the track record of the program is that families move in and stay permanently. A family in such a program probably would no longer be homeless under the McKinney-Vento education definition, because they would no longer lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence.

In other cases, HUD programs like Rapid Rehousing and even Permanent Supportive Housing come with conditions and a track record of families having to leave in very short order. Those programs are more likely to meet the McKinney-Vento education definition.

We had a number of instances last year in which a family was assigned a school in July, but between that date and the beginning of the school year, they had to move again due to homelessness. They never attended the school to which they were assigned. Should they get school of origin rights?

Answer: In this case, simply being assigned a school would not create McKinney-Vento school of origin rights, because the definition of school of origin is “the school that a child or youth attended when permanently housed, or the school in which the child or youth was last enrolled, including a preschool.” In the situation you described, the children never attended the school. Also, since “enrolled” is defined as attending classes and participating fully in school activities, the children really were not “enrolled”, either. If a student did not attend classes, the school to which they were assigned would not meet this definition.

If a homeless family became housed in the summer, they would have the right to school of origin for the following academic year (locally or state defined). McKinney-Vento does refer to “academic year” in establishing the right to school of origin if the child or youth becomes permanently housed in an academic year or over the summer. Whether a student remains in the school of origin depends on best interest factors. In the case of a family that is permanently housed in a new school district over the summer, those best interest factors may stack up in favor of enrolling in the local school for the new school year.

Is taking away bus privileges as a form of discipline something that would impede or cause a barrier to a student’s access to education? Does it matter if the students live within walking distance to school?

Answer: The McKinney-Vento Act requires LEAs to provide transportation to and from the school of origin. At the same time, the McKinney-Vento Act does not override school discipline (as long as the reason for the discipline is not related to the student’s homelessness).  If an LEA is using a school bus to provide transportation to the school of origin, the LEA may wish to pursue forms of discipline that do not keep the child off the bus. If the child is suspended from the bus for safety reasons or other reasons, the LEA must arrange alternative transportation for the student.  If the student lives within the walk zone, the LEA may require the student to walk, as long as it is safe and appropriate.

Generally speaking, when considering disciplinary action involving a McKinney-Vento student, schools should remember the traumatic impact of homelessness, and how trauma affects student behavior. The US Department of Education has emphasized the importance of implementing a schoolwide approach to positive and proactive behavioral support systems and behavioral interventions for at-risk students. USED Guidance, March 2017, pages 34-35 and 46-47.

We’re getting resistance to doing special education evaluations for McKinney-Vento students who have changed schools frequently or missed a lot of school. What are the rules about evaluating such students?

Answer: The US Department of Education has emphasized that highly mobile children should have timely and expedited evaluations and eligibility determinations. The Department also has clarified that “once parental consent has been obtained for an initial evaluation to determine if the child needs special education and related services, the school district must not delay the completion of the evaluation because an RTI [Response to Intervention] process is pending. Rather, the school district must adhere to the relevant evaluation time frame described in 34 CFR 300.301, unless extended by mutual written agreement of the school district and the child’s parents.” July 19, 2013 letter from OSERS to State Directors of Special Education.

When students miss school or move frequently, it certainly can impact their achievement in ways that may raise concerns about a possible disability.  If a parent (or surrogate parent) requests an evaluation, that evaluation must move forward as quickly as possible, and certainly within regulatory time frames. As part of the special education evaluation and eligibility process, the special education team will determine whether the child’s difficulties are due to a disability or due to other factors such as mobility and attendance.

Are there resources to help train staff to identify homelessness and McKinney-Vento eligibility?

Answer: SchoolHouse Connection has template Power Points and other training tools on its website, which include slides and information on identification. They can be found at https://www.schoolhouseconnection.org/learn/k-12/. The National Center for Homeless Education offers webinars and self-paced trainings on its website, https://nche.ed.gov/web/online_tr.php. Videos designed for particular school staff, including registrars and school counselors, are available at vimeo.com/pjulianelle. The video for registrars features registrars demonstrating how they talk to families about potential McKinney-Vento eligibility.

Can you provide more information about the parameters of “substandard” housing?

Answer: The US Department of Education has provided guidance on this term: “In determining whether a child or youth is living in “substandard housing,” an LEA may consider whether the setting in which the family, child, or youth is living lacks one of the fundamental utilities such as water, electricity, or heat; is infested with vermin or mold; lacks a basic functional part, such as a working kitchen or a working toilet; or may present unreasonable dangers to adults, children, or persons with disabilities. Each city, county, or State may have its own housing codes that further define the kind of housing that may be deemed substandard.” USED Guidance, March 2017, A-3.

Do we need to locate children experiencing homelessness younger than school-age if they do not have school age siblings? What if we are aware of the child through other means?

Answer: LEAs must conduct outreach to identify and report data on all children and youth experiencing homelessness, including young children. Some strategies recommended by the US Department of Education include collaborating with:

  • Shelters;
  • Health centers and social service agencies, such as agencies that administer the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and other public benefits;
  • Early childhood education providers, such as Head Start and Early Head Start programs; public or private preschool programs, which can be school or community based; public or private child care programs; family child care homes and home-based early childhood programs; and early childhood health and development providers, such as HHS/HRSA-funded Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV);
  • School personnel; and
  • Early intervention and special education programs (IDEA, Parts B and C). USED Guidance, March 2017, N-1.

Other partners that can help find families with young children experiencing homelessness include housing and homeless assistance programs, motels, domestic violence shelters and advocates, substance abuse programs, faith-based providers like Family Promise, and sources of food like soup kitchens and food pantries.

What are ways districts notify families that they are able to access supports through McKinney-Vento?

Answer: The McKinney-Vento Act requires liaisons to ensure that “public notice of the educational rights of homeless children and youths is disseminated in locations frequented by parents or guardians of such children and youths, and unaccompanied youths, including schools, shelters, public libraries, and soup kitchens, in a manner and form understandable to the parents and guardians of homeless children and youths, and unaccompanied youths.” 42 USC 11432(g)(6)(a)(vi). Strategies to notify families include:

  • Widely disseminating posters and brochures throughout schools and the community;
  • Using an enrollment form that asks about current housing;
  • Providing McKinney-Vento information in enrollment packets;
  • Frequently posting information on school and district websites and school social media;
  • Sharing information through community partners, such as early childhood programs, teen and youth adult parenting programs, faith-based groups, health clinics, social service agencies, homeless service providers, food banks, and LGBTQ youth groups.
If we don’t have a preschool, but a child was enrolled in his/her school of origin preschool, what happens when they move to our town?

Answer: Children can remain in their preschool of origin even if they move out of the town or school district. The determination whether the child remains in the preschool of origin is based on the child’s best interest. The US Department of Education has noted that: “An early childhood program may be the one stable and structured environment that young children who are homeless can depend on, and as such, school and program stability is of the utmost importance for this vulnerable population.” The guidance suggests that best interest determinations for preschool children should consider the child’s attachment to preschool teachers and staff, the availability and quality of services to meet the child’s comprehensive needs (including health, developmental, and social-emotional needs), and travel time to and from the school.  USED Guidance, March 2017, N-3.

More information on preschools of origin is available at https://www.schoolhouseconnection.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/PreschoolFlowchart.pdf.

If a family is experiencing homelessness with a 3 or 4 year old, must the child be enrolled automatically in pre-K? What if there is no more space in the pre-K program?

Answer: Children experiencing homelessness should be prioritized for pre-K programs. If the program is full, the McKinney-Vento Act does not require the program to go over capacity to serve homeless children. However, the US Department of Education places strong emphasis on enrolling children experiencing homelessness in preschool:

“Even in districts without universal preschool, local liaisons should make every effort to enroll preschool-age homeless children in preschool if they are not already enrolled. The local liaison should remind preschool program staff of how important preschool services are for homeless children and how waiting lists often create barriers for homeless families who wish to enroll their children. Some preschool programs keep slots open specifically for homeless children. Homeless children are also automatically eligible to attend preschool programs funded under Title I.” USED Guidance, March 2017, N-2.

Can students who are doubled-up remain eligible for McKinney-Vento services over multiple school years?

Answer: Yes. Children and youth who are sharing the housing of others due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason are eligible for McKinney-Vento Act rights and services. There is no time limit on McKinney-Vento eligibility. It depends on the living situation. Many families will remain in doubled-up situations for months or even years as they struggle to find employment and housing, and to address other challenges that may be causing their homelessness. If the shared housing situation becomes fixed, regular and adequate (for example, if the housing is adequate for the number of people living there, and if the two families share rent and lease responsibilities), the children may no longer be McKinney-Vento eligible. Also, the school of origin best interest determination may change over time depending on educational and other factors.

Some of our school nurses are hesitant to share health information for students transferring to a new school, for fear of losing their license for breaking privacy laws. Can you please address the differences between HIPAA vs FERPA, and how each law permits information-sharing while protecting privacy?

Answer: A joint guidance document from the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services provides good answers to the HIPAA vs. FERPA question.  For example, it says:

“Because student health information in education records is protected by FERPA, the HIPAA Privacy Rule excludes such information from its coverage.”

In other words, student education records are protected under FERPA, but exempt from HIPAA, which, in turn, means that the school nurses would not face liability under HIPAA.  The student education records information protected under FERPA includes information on immunizations, allergies, medications, and any other information that is part of the student’s education record.  Those records are protected by FERPA.  FERPA specifically allows transmission of education records without parental consent to a school to which the student is transferring.  FERPA also allows the sharing of education records with others in the school who have a legitimate educational reason to see them.

You can find the guidance here: https://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/doc/ferpa-hipaa-guidance.pdf

Do you have guidance on how colleges/universities can acquire a verification for unaccompanied homeless youth for the FAFSA, especially for students who do not directly come from high school?

Here is the latest letter from the US Department of Education on this:
https://ifap.ed.gov/dpcletters/attachments/GEN1516Attach.pdf

There is some new information on page 116 of the latest AVG that specifically allows liaisons to provide verifications for students after high school, if the liaison has the information necessary to verify the student’s status.  “Also, local liaisons may write subsequent year letters of verification for unaccompanied homeless youth through age 23 for whom they have the necessary information to write such letters.”
https://ifap.ed.gov/fsahandbook/attachments/1718AVG.pdf

However, if the liaison does not have the necessary information, and the youth is not connected to a HUD or RHYA program (as most are not), the Financial Aid Administrator at the college/university has both the authority and the obligation to make the determination.

We have some information on this, as well as a sample verification form, on our website: https://www.schoolhouseconnection.org/higher-education/

Are schools required to provide transportation to students in foster care to remain in their school of origin?

Answer: Schools are required to collaborate with child welfare agencies to develop written procedures governing how transportation to maintain children in foster care in their school of origin, when in their best interest, will be provided, arranged, and funded. If there are no additional costs incurred in providing school of origin transportation for children in foster care, the school district should provide the transportation. However, if there are additional costs incurred, schools must provide transportation only if the local child welfare agency agrees to reimburse the costs, or the school district agrees to pay for all or part of the costs. These provisions are found in Title I, Part A of the Every Student Succeeds Act. 20 U.S.C. §6312(c)(5).

When state law requires a health plan prior to enrolling a student, how do we reconcile that with the McKinney-Vento Act’s requirement for immediate enrollment?

Answer: You follow the McKinney-Vento Act and enroll immediately. When two statutes conflict with each other, Article VI, Clause 2 of the US Constitution (commonly known as the Supremacy Clause) requires that federal law be followed.  That constitutional language is:

“This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.”

In this case, the state law is superseded by the McKinney-Vento Act, and the child must be enrolled in school immediately.  The McKinney-Vento Act is clear:

“(C) IMMEDIATE ENROLLMENT-

  • IN GENERAL.– The school selected in accordance with this paragraph shall immediately enroll the homeless child or youth, even if the child or youth—is unable to produce records normally required for enrollment, such as previous academic records, records of immunization and other required health records, proof of residency, or other documentation;”
We have statewide virtual schools that do not have students meet at a local school site, ever. McKinney-Vento students are not asked to prove residency, of course, but sometimes, the resident liaison checks on the family or youth to see that they actually live in state. Now we have a case in which the parent is refusing to meet with a local liaison. Advice?

Answer: The liaison should follow the same process as any McKinney-Vento scenario where there is a concern about eligibility. The virtual school liaison could provide the parent with written notice that they are making a determination of ineligibility unless the parent will meet with the local liaison. If the parent still refuses to meet, then they could provide written notice of ineligibility and information about how to appeal through the dispute process.  The student must be allowed to continue in the virtual school until the dispute reaches its final resolution.

Also, I understand the virtual school McKinney-Vento Liaison can contact the Liaison in the district of residence should the student need local assistance (e.g., clothes, food, transportation to the library, etc.). That is a great practice.

I’m helping an unaccompanied homeless youth with the FAFSA. I’m wondering how to advise him if someone is still claiming him as a dependent on their taxes, even though they are not supporting him.

Answer: The issue of tax claims is completely separate from the FAFSA independent student status. The FAFSA status is based on the student’s living situation. As long as the student is determined to be unaccompanied and homeless in the year in which he is submitting the application, he is considered an independent student for the FAFSA, regardless of whether someone else is fraudulently claiming him as a dependent on their taxes.

A parent or another person’s decision to claim a youth as a dependent on their taxes reflects on the parent or on the person making the claim; that person may be subject to penalties for unlawfully claiming a youth as a dependent. The key point is that the parent or other person’s actions should not subject the youth to penalties or make them ineligible for independent student status on the FAFSA, as long as the youth is abiding by the tax laws applicable to his own income and does not personally benefit from the parent or other person’s unlawful actions.

I know it is confusing because both the FAFSA and the IRS use the term “dependent,” but they are different matters.

Who can make special education decisions for an unaccompanied youth?

Answer: This is fairly complicated, but a step-by-step answer is available in this publication: https://www.nasdse.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=Kck6yunXeEQ%3D&tabid=36.

How does emancipation interact with McKinney-Vento?

Answer: Emancipation is determined by state law and is not part of the inquiry as far as education goes under the McKinney-Vento Act. If a student is an unaccompanied youth under McKinney-Vento, the student has the right to immediate enrollment in school, regardless of whether the student is emancipated under state law. The student can enroll in school as an unaccompanied youth and can have an adult present with her at school meetings, even if that adult is not her parent.  She can apply as an unaccompanied youth on the FAFSA, and the liaison has to assist her in obtaining verification of her status to provide to the financial aid office.

Can a district use McKinney-Vento funds to purchase a washer and dryer as part of an after-school independent living skills program for McKinney-Vento students? They will use the equipment to teach students how to wash their clothes, while also teaching cooking, budgeting, and other skills. The students are being bullied due to dirty clothes, and many won’t come to school.

Answer: Yes, McKinney-Vento funds can be used to purchase a washer and dryer for a program like this. It could fit under several allowable uses:

(7) The provision of services and assistance to attract, engage, and retain homeless children and youths, particularly homeless children and youths who are not enrolled in school, in public school programs and services provided to nonhomeless children and youths.  (The students are not coming to school due to hygiene and bullying.)

(12) The provision of specialized instructional support services (including violence prevention counseling) and referrals for such services.  (Teaching how to wash, how to cook, etc..  The inclusion of “violence prevention counseling” as a specific example shows that the term “specialized instructional support services” is much broader than typical academics or coursework)

(16) The provision of other extraordinary or emergency assistance needed to enable homeless children and youths to attend school and participate fully in school activities. (The students are not coming to school due to hygiene and bullying.)

Where can I find family preparedness kits to help undocumented families prepare for possible family separation due to immigration raids?

Answer: Family preparedness plans are available in English, Spanish and Chinese at https://www.ilrc.org/family-preparedness-plan.

A student in school A wants to enroll in school B in the same school district. School B is closest to where she is currently living. Student has now made threats to students in school A via social media. The district has expelled the student. Once the expulsion has been lifted, can the student enroll in either school A or school B?

Answer: The student is subject to the same discipline regarding the threat of violence as any other student would be. Once she is through that process, she can return to school A (assuming that is not against the discipline policy), or enroll in school B (any school that other children living where the student is staying would be eligible to attend). The question would be her best interest. The process is exactly the same whether School B is in the same district or another district. The best interest evaluation would ask the same questions as usual, and if there is a dispute, it would follow the same procedure as usual. In this example, given the nature of the social media threat, it would appear that returning to her high school of origin is not in her best interest. That, coupled with her stated desire to enroll in the local school, makes it fairly clear that the local school is the right place for her.

On the FAFSA, for students with legal status, but whose parents are undocumented, can the student just leave the parents’ Social Security number blank?

Answer: No. The student should insert all zeros for the parents’ Social Security numbers. More information on this topic is available at https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/sites/default/files/financial-aid-and-undocumented-students.pdf.

Is subsidized child care available to U.S. born children regardless of the parents’ immigration status?

Answer: Child care funded through the Child Care and Development Fund is available to children who are citizens, regardless of the parents’ immigration status. “The final rule adds paragraph (c), clarifying that only the citizenship and immigration status of the child, the primary beneficiary of CCDF, is relevant for the purposes of determining eligibility under [the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996] and that a Lead Agency, or other administering agency, may not condition eligibility based upon the citizenship or immigration status of the child’s parent.” This regulation is available at: https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2016-09-30/pdf/2016-22986.pdf.

Child care funded under TANF or another program may have requirements related to the parent’s immigration status. More information is available at http://www.clasp.org/sites/default/files/publications/2017/04/Immigrant-Eligibility-for-ECE-Programs.pdf.

Do partner organizations/supplementary support programs that work within schools have to follow the Plyler v. Doe ruling relating to undocumented students’ rights to an education?

Answer: Plyer v. Doe applies to public schools and public education. Some community or supplemental programs may require legal immigration status or documents and may be unavailable to undocumented students. For example, undocumented students may not be able to access vocational programs that require work authorization, or driver’s education and/or programs that require a driver’s license (in states where undocumented individuals cannot get driver’s licenses).

Some colleges are asking undocumented high school seniors to fill out the FAFSA. Obviously many undocumented students are hesitant to do this. Is this accurate? Should undocumented seniors fill out FAFSA for the school even though they will not be getting funding support?

Answer: Colleges may be asking students to complete the FAFSA in order to determine eligibility for state financial aid. In CA, MN, NM, TX and WA, undocumented students are eligible for state aid. Most states use the FAFSA to determine eligibility for state aid, so they may ask students to complete the form for that reason. In addition, some colleges offer institutional aid to undocumented students and may use the FAFSA to determine eligibility for that aid.

In any case, students must have a valid Social Security number to complete the FAFSA. Students should never put false Social Security numbers, for themselves or their parents, on the FASFA. More information on this topic is available at https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/sites/default/files/financial-aid-and-undocumented-students.pdf.

How does immigration status relate to compulsory school attendance laws?

Answer: Immigration status does not affect compulsory school attendance. Any child and youth subject to compulsory attendance must attend school under the conditions of the state law, regardless of immigration status.

On our district enrollment forms, families/students are asked what their country of birth is. Does that violate the Supreme Court ruling of Plyler v. Doe, which gives all students living in the United States the right to attend school, regardless of immigration status?

Answer: No, it does not violate Plyler vs. Doe, as long as it does not result in parents or students being wary or afraid to enroll in school. Many school districts ask about birth country as part of providing services (and receiving federal funds) under the Title III Immigrant Education Program. Requiring an answer to that question as a condition of enrollment or receiving services may violate Plyler vs. Doe because it may deter immigrant parents and youth from enrolling in school. And of course this information would be part of the student’s educational record and cannot be released without the parent’s consent (unless an exception applies under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act).

Our Department of Human Services refuses to allow the unaccompanied students to access SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance or Food Stamps) without the “host” family giving their financial information. What is the law on that?

Answer: Unaccompanied youth do not need to provide host family information on SNAP applications unless they are purchasing and preparing food together with the host family, or if they are under “parental control” of the host family. It’s a case-by-case decision, but in our experience, most unaccompanied youth do not meet either of those criteria. There is a memo addressing this specific issue at: https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/Policy_Clarifications_Homeless_Youth_Issues.pdf.

Under what circumstances may a McKinney-Vento student without a disability ride a “special education” school bus to their school of origin?

Answer: According to the U.S. Department of Education, special education buses can be used to transport McKinney-Vento students without disabilities, as long as no additional IDEA funds are used to transport those students.  This is true even if the bus was purchased with IDEA funds exclusively to transport children with disabilities, as long as the bus is not full, and it can pick up McKinney-Vento students along the usual route.

This letter provides the legal citations and more information on the use of special education transportation for students who are experiencing homelessness. It is important to note that the memo was written prior to the enactment of the Every Student Succeeds Act; therefore, some of the McKinney-Vento Act provisions that are cited have changed. However, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, upon which the interpretation is based, has not changed since the date of the letter.

Can we use Title I set-aside funds to transport children from our domestic violence shelter to our preschool program? We do not typically provide transportation to preschool, but these children will not attend if we cannot provide transportation.

Answer: Absolutely. Providing transportation eliminates a barrier to attendance in preschool for these children. The state is required to have procedures that “ensure that— (i) homeless children have access to public preschool programs, administered by the State educational agency or local educational agency, as provided to other children in the State.”  42 USC §11432(g)(1)(F)(i).  By using Title I funds for this transportation, you are adopting a procedure to ensure that children can access your LEA pre-K program.  Title I specifically allows the set-aside to be used for “services not ordinarily provided to other students.”

A shelter has access to transportation for children residing there. The school district is wondering if they can use Title I funds to reimburse the shelter for the cost of transportation. ESSA allows us to use Title-I funds to pay for the excess cost of transportation, but does it make a difference if the funds are paying a shelter?

Answer: There is no problem with this, as long as the transportation provided by the shelter is cost-effective. McKinney-Vento allows the LEA to provide or arrange transportation, thereby giving the LEA some discretion to choose the method of transportation, as long as it is appropriate. In this case, if the shelter has the capacity to provide appropriate and cost-effective transportation, the use of Title I funds would be allowable in the same way as it would be to reimburse a parent or provide a school bus. As many communities are struggling with school bus and driver shortages, working with the shelter in this way might make excellent sense.

The only concern here would be if the shelter transportation stigmatizes the children.  For example, we have heard horrible stories about children being driven to school in vans with the name of a shelter in giant letters on the side. This can lead to severe stigma and discrimination.  It is important to keep that in mind and ensure the transportation avoids stigma.

Can a 19-year old McKinney-Vento student participate in sports? Our athletic association has an age limit for participation.

Answer: While McKinney-Vento requires immediate enrollment (including full participation), there is no blanket exemption from all of the athletic association requirements for homeless students. The McKinney-Vento Act requires that states have in place procedures to ensure that “homeless children and youths who meet the relevant eligibility criteria do not face barriers to accessing academic and extracurricular activities….” The statute specifically states that students must meet relevant eligibility criteria, such as maintaining a certain G.P.A., regular attendance, and the requisite skill level in the sport or activity.

In light of all this, the crux of the issue is whether the reason for the 19-year-old McKinney-Vento student’s participation in athletics is directly related to the student’s homelessness. If that is the case, the student should be allowed to participate. In fact there’s a case from Oregon about a 19-year old student who wanted to participate in track and chorus, was denied due to age, and then won at a hearing because his homelessness contributed to him not being able to make regular academic progress and graduate on-time.  (He later went on to get a singing scholarship to college!)

We would suggest attaching a letter to the athletic waiver form with an explanation of your role as the liaison, your determination of homelessness, and how homelessness has prevented the student from making academic progress (problems with attendance, moving around, etc.).

Are non-public schools, i.e. charter and parochial schools, required to identify, enroll and report students experiencing homelessness?

Answer: The McKinney-Vento Act applies to public schools, including public charter schools. It does not apply to private or parochial schools, so the homelessness requirements on identification, enrollment, etc. do not apply. However, there is a Title IA reservation of funds for non-public schools, so homeless children attending non-public schools should receive services through that source.

A McKinney-Vento family recently arrived in a school district from out of the country. When they went to the registration office, they were told that due the fact they have been in the country less than 3 months, they need to have a TB test done, and the results need to be presented prior to enrollment. Is this appropriate for a McKinney-Vento student?

Answer: No. Since this is a McKinney-Vento family, they need to be enrolled immediately, even without the TB test.  This is clear in the law:

“The school selected in accordance with this paragraph shall immediately enroll the homeless child or youth, even if the child or youth—

is unable to produce records normally required for enrollment, such as previous academic records, records of immunization and other required health records, proof of residency, or other documentation”  (42 USC §11432(g)(3)(C)(i)(I)).

Unless the student is showing active symptoms of a contagious disease, a school cannot deny or delay enrollment while immunization or other health records are obtained.

Do you have a formula that districts could use to assist them in determining what their set-aside amounts should be for Title 1A?

Answer: The U.S. Department of Education has some good guidance on calculating the amount of the Title I, Part A set-aside. Specifically, the Department states that LEA set-aside amounts may be determined based on a needs assessment that reviews homeless student enrollment averages and trends over 2-3 years, and multiplies by the average per-pupil cost of providing Title I services. The guidance is available at https://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/leg/essa/160240ehcyguidance072716.pdf.

We recommend that formula as a floor, not a ceiling – basically, a rough starting point that could be fleshed out depending on other local factors, such as the need to increase staff time to better identify students and to meet the ESSA requirement that the liaison is “able to carry out” his or her McKinney-Vento duties.

The Department also recommends that the needs of McKinney-Vento students be reviewed at least twice per school year, and that each year’s set-aside include an evaluation of the effectiveness of past activities in accomplishing the goals of both Title I and McKinney-Vento for individual students and the overall programs.  For more information, watch our archived webinar on this topic: https://www.schoolhouseconnection.org/archived-webinars/.

How do we cite the McKinney-Vento Act and Title I, since the Every Student Succeeds Act amended them?

Answer: The McKinney-Vento Act remains in Title 42 of the U.S. Code. It can be cited as 42 US Code §§11431-11435.  The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) amended it, but didn’t change the title or section headings. ESSA’s amendments to Title I did change some of the section headings, so you should look those up on line. You can see all the homelessness-related provisions of Title I, with their new citations, here: https://www.schoolhouseconnection.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/TitleIPartA.pdf

You can see the McKinney-Vento Act, as amended by ESSA, here: https://www.schoolhouseconnection.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/TextofMV.pdf

When a McKinney-Vento student with an IEP (special education) is placed in a public or private program that is not physically in their school of origin, do they have rights to continue in that program the following school year if they return as a McKinney-Vento student?

Answer: Yes.  When a local educational agency does an IEP and places a student in a public or private school, school of origin applies.  So if a McKinney-Vento student was placed in a certain school last year due to special needs, and the student is still McKinney-Vento eligible this year, the student has the right to remain in that school (dependent upon the best interest of the student and the wishes of the parent, guardian or unaccompanied youth). It is the school of origin. The student also could enroll in a school in the attendance area where the student actually is living.  Usually, unless the distance is just too far, or there are health issues related to commuting, special needs students benefit from the stability the school of origin provides, and it is in their best interest to stay in the school of origin.

In the case of an unaccompanied homeless youth (17 years old), can a parent prevent the school from sharing information with the student’s sister/caretaker? The student has been staying between the youth shelter and his sister’s home for several months. The sister was previously listed as a guardian until this week when the parent asked that her name be removed and that she not be allowed to be involved in any way. The parents want the student to do home school, while he wants to remain in his current school.

Answer: Under FERPA, in this case the school does need to follow the parent’s wishes, unless there is some court order preventing the parent from exercising those rights. The sister does not have any legal custody or guardianship, she’s just a caregiver and sister, so the parent’s rights are primary and controlling over all others. That is true until the student turns 18, at which time all FERPA rights transfer to him. At that time, he even could refuse to let his parents see his records.

An individual acting as a parent in the absence of a parent or guardian meets the definition of parent in FERPA. 34 CFR §99.3. However, if a parent or legal guardian is present and attempting to exercise FERPA rights, their rights trump others.

The school could give the youth access to his educational records. Although FERPA does not specifically guarantee the rights of unaccompanied youth under 18, the law does permit schools to allow students under age 18 to have access to their education records and provide consent for disclosures, as long as those rights do not supersede the rights of their parents. There is guidance on this point in questions 5 and 6 of this document: https://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/pdf/ferpa-disaster-guidance.pdf

Note: Nothing in FERPA changes the student’s McKinney-Vento rights.  As an unaccompanied youth, he has the right to choose to remain in his school of origin or attend the school near where he is staying. The district must give priority to his wishes. Those are the McKinney-Vento requirements. The parent of course is welcome to pursue family reunification services from community resources. But the school has to comply with McKinney-Vento. If the parent has refused to let the sister excuse absences and otherwise be involved, then the district can allow the youth to do that on his own.

Two McKinney-Vento students attending their school of origin were arrested a couple days ago for fairly severe school vandalism (setting it on fire and breaking windows). The school is determining appropriate disciplinary action and intervention. How does the McKinney-Vento Act affect school discipline rules?

Answer: Students who qualify for McKinney-Vento services are still subject to the same discipline processes and procedures as housed students, unless the behavior giving rise to discipline is clearly related to homelessness (absences and tardies are good examples). The district is required to provide educational services to the students during a suspension or expulsion, as it would for any student suspended or expelled. These services are not required to be provided on site and could be provided in the shelter or another location.

Note that if the students are special education students, they would have additional rights related to student discipline under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

We have a McKinney-Vento student who just enrolled and wants to be on the swim team. Her former school (out of state) has not released her records, so we can’t yet determine her academic eligibility. She has a swim meet in two days. Can she participate?

Answer: Yes. The main issue here is the former school not releasing the records. McKinney-Vento requires that school records be maintained so they “are available, in a timely fashion, when a child or youth enters a new school or school district.” 42 USC §11432(g)(3)(D)(i). If the school is withholding the records due to an unpaid fee, fine or other issue, that creates a barrier to enrollment in the new school, which also violates the McKinney-Vento Act. 42 USC §11432(g)(1)(I).

Even if you cannot get the records in time, the student should be allowed to participate in the swim meet. “Previous academic records” are specifically listed in the law as something that cannot delay immediate enrollment. 42 USC §11432(g)(3)(C)(i)(I). Enrollment includes participating fully in school activities, and the swim team is a school activity. Therefore, McKinney-Vento requires the school to allow her to participate in swimming immediately. When the records arrive, if they indicate she is not eligible for academic reasons, at that time the school could respond appropriately.

It’s worth pointing out that this is a situation where a previous school is (illegally) withholding records. There is no allegation that the student is trying to hide her records as a way to participate in swimming against state or district policy.

We have had several guardians requesting a copy of the caregiver form that was filled out by a caregiver enrolling an unaccompanied youth. One guardian in particular is upset that the caregiver enrolled her child in school and would like to have a copy of the form. Does the law require us to give the guardian a copy of the caregiver from?

Answer: Under FERPA, parents and legal guardians to have a right to see their children’s educational records. The caregiver form would be part of the educational record. So a parent or guardian would have the right to see that form. Of course, the school has the right to verify the guardian’s identity, such as by having the guardian show ID and some document that establishes guardianship. For more information on FERPA, you can visit https://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/ferpa/index.html.

You definitely could let the caregiver know that a guardian has requested the form, and that you are required to share it. That way, the caregiver can be prepared, in case there is any concern about the caregiver’s safety in light of this guardian being upset.

We use a Caregiver Authorization Affidavit for unaccompanied McKinney-Vento students. Is that allowable? Some are concerned about giving access to school records to someone who is not a legal parent or guardian.

Answer: Under the McKinney-Vento Act, lack of a legal guardian or guardianship documents cannot delay or prevent the immediate enrollment of an unaccompanied youth. The legal citation is 42 U.S.C. §§11432(g)(3)(C), (g)(1)(H)(iv).

LEAs may adopt their own policies to meet these mandates. However, whatever procedures are used, those procedures must ensure immediate enrollment, as the McKinney-Vento Act requires states and LEAs to eliminate barriers to identification, enrollment and retention and to enroll unaccompanied youth in school immediately. 42 U.S.C. §§11432(g)(1)(I), (g)(7).

The Caregiver Authorization Affidavit does not confer parental rights – it merely gives the school district a document to substitute for typical enrollment forms. In cases of potential trafficking, the safest place for unaccompanied youth to be is in school immediately. Having the youth in school, and having the contact information of the person with whom they are staying, is the best way to follow up and ensure the student’s safety, if there are suspicions. Turning the youth away not only would violate federal law, it also would place the youth in greater harm’s way.

I am working with a 12th grader who has changed his name. We are using his chosen name at school, but he has not gone through the court process yet to change his name legally, nor has he changed his name with Social Security. What name should he put on his FAFSA?

Answer: At this time, the student should use his legal name. The name on the FAFSA must match with the student’s Social Security number on record with the Social Security Administration.

I have a 17 year old boy who came from Venezuela with his family in February. Mom has been trying to enroll him since that time, but the high school told her that he is too old to be registered. They qualify under McKinney-Vento. Can the school deny enrollment due to the boy’s age?

Answer: No. The youth is not too old to enroll in high school. The maximum age for high school enrollment depends on state law, but a 17-year old is eligible. While often school is not compulsory after age 16, it is allowed. Particularly for a McKinney-Vento student, who has the right to immediate enrollment, denying enrollment due to his age is a severe violation.

Under McKinney-Vento’s immediate enrollment requirement, how long do students/families have to obtain proper immunization if they do not have their records and records cannot be obtained from the previous school?

Answer: There is not a specific time limit on how long McKinney-Vento students can be in school while immunizations or other health records are obtained. The vast majority of students experiencing homelessness have been enrolled in school before and have had required immunizations. Those records should be a part of their school records. Since the enrolling school is required to contact the previous school for records, the information should be available quickly. The enrolling school and the McKinney-Vento liaison should work together to get immunization records as soon as possible.

If a student has not had immunizations, initial doses should be administered as soon as possible, unless the student has a philosophical, religious, or medical exemption. (It is accepted practice in the public health community that some children will not be immunized for these reasons, and the fact that most students are immunized prevents serious outbreaks from occurring.)

Are schools required to allow McKinney-Vento students to be involved in extra curricular activities (sports, etc.) or is it just the academic curriculum?

Answer: Immediate enrollment requirements include extra-curricular activities. The McKinney-Vento Act requires states and LEAs to eliminate barriers to school enrollment and retention for children and youth experiencing homelessness. 42 U.S.C. §§11432(g)(1)(I), (g)(7). Enrollment is defined as attending school and participating fully in school activities. 42 U.S.C. §11434A(1). Sports, including at the varsity level, are school activities. Further, McKinney-Vento state plans are required to describe procedures to ensure that “homeless children and youths who meet the relevant eligibility criteria do not face barriers to accessing… extracurricular activities….” 42 U.S.C. §11432(g)(1)(F)(iii).

If an unaccompanied minor (McKinney-Vento student) gets injured at school, who pays for it? We require all our athletes to have insurance, but a student could slip through the cracks. One principal uses money they receive from their soda machine to buy insurance for disadvantaged students.

Answer: The McKinney-Vento Act does not address that issue. It would depend on your state law. Most if not all McKinney-Vento students would be eligible for Medicaid (under 19 and very low-income). An unaccompanied youth should be able to apply on his or her own, but it may require a phone call or two to find the right person who can understand the situation and assist with the application process. For costs that aren’t covered by insurance, hospitals and doctors have their own procedures for how they handle billing, and it would be the same for your students. Of course, those debts can follow the students and parents for years, so it’s really important to get them on insurance as soon as possible.

Can you clarify transportation requirements for preschool children who are not staying in their preschool of origin? We have preschool aged children who just came into a shelter, but the preschool programs in the area of the shelter are full and have waiting lists. The preschools that have openings are out of the attendance area, and we do not typically provide transportation.

Answer: There is no clear, specific requirement to provide transportation to the preschools with openings that are outside the attendance area, since only “comparable” transportation is required (and comparable in this case means no transportation). However, you could certainly make the case under the law that lack of transportation is a barrier to the enrollment of the children in preschool, and that the district is obligated to remove the barrier. Also, as you know, Title IA funds can be used to pay for preschool transportation (both to preschool of origin and other preschools).

Also, looking to the future, it would be important to explore ways to create on-going capacity at preschools (especially close to shelters) by reserving some slots for homeless children, moving them to the top of the waitlist, or other methods to ensure that there are procedures to remove barriers to enrollment. The McKinney-Vento Act now requires immediate enrollment even if the child or youth “has missed application or enrollment deadlines during any period of homelessness.” Reserving slots or going to the top of the waitlist can help school districts comply with this requirement when programs are full.

I have a youth who enrolled under McKinney-Vento, and we later found out he has run away from home. Now the parent has come to the school district wanting information on the student, including where he is staying currently. What are our legal obligations to the parent?

Answer: There is no duty for schools to find or contact an unaccompanied youth’s parents or guardians. However, if a parent or legal guardian contacts the school to inquire about his or her child, the school must share the student’s educational records with the parent/legal guardian, upon confirming their identity, unless the youth has alleged abuse and the school has contacted Child Protective Services or law enforcement. In that case, the school should refer the parent to the appropriate agency. Once the youth turns 18, the youth gains control over records disclosure.

In addition, it seems like it would be very beneficial for someone the student trusts to talk to him about the home situation. We know it can take a long time for youth to feel enough trust to disclose what is really going on at home. Still, someone could sit down with him, explain that the school is required to share school records with the youth’s parents, and try to find out if there is a risk of abuse. Depending on what is disclosed, the school may need to call CPS, which could trigger that court order keeping the parents away. At the same time, it could trigger child welfare involvement that the youth may not (probably does not) want. So a clear, honest conversation with the student about the various consequences would at least help the student feel some small level of control over his circumstances.

We have charter schools that are not their own LEAs. Several contract with our transportation office to bus students to their schools, while others offer no school bus transportation. What are the transportation requirements for charter schools under McKinney-Vento?

Answer: Charter schools are subject to the same transportation provisions as any public school, whether they are their own LEA or part of another LEA. They are required to provide school of origin transportation. In addition, for children for whom the charter is not their school of origin, charter schools are required to provide comparable transportation. Those are two separate and different requirements. (The school of origin requirement is in section 722(g)(1)(J)(iii) of the law, and the comparable transportation for non-school of origin transportation is in section 722(g)(4)(A) of the law.)

Whether the charter school generally provides bussing to students does not matter when it comes to school of origin transportation for McKinney-Vento students, because school of origin transportation is a requirement under McKinney-Vento. It is not a comparable service— it is beyond comparable. The specific type of school of origin transportation provided depends on the age of the child and the options available. For older students who can access the city bus safely, bus passes might work perfectly. If parents have vehicles and are able to transport their children, gas assistance is a great option. Taxis, school buses or other arrangements will be necessary in other circumstances.

For charter schools that are part of your LEA, ultimately your LEA is responsible. Contracts and payment arrangements your LEA has with the charter school are outside the purview of McKinney-Vento; under McKinney-Vento, the bottom line is that transportation is provided in compliance with the law, and internal payment arrangements can work however the charter or your district set that up. For those charter schools that are their own LEA, they are responsible. In those cases, your district may split the cost with the charter, but again, those specifics are up to you to work out.

Does the cause of an eviction ever play a part in determining if a family qualifies for MV identification?

Answer: No. Identification depends on the current living situation, and whether it is fixed, regular and adequate. If a family is evicted, for whatever reason, and goes to stay in a motel, sharing the housing of others due to the eviction (loss of housing), a shelter, or another living situation that is not fixed, regular and adequate, the children will qualify under McKinney-Vento.

A student who was in elementary school in the 2016-17 year is now moving up to the junior high. Mother wants him to go to the junior high near his older brother’s high school, but that junior high is not in his feeder pattern from last school year. Where should we enroll the student?

Answer: In the situation you describe, enrollment in the junior high near the brother’s high school is not covered by the McKinney-Vento Act, because the junior high is not in the feeder pattern from the last school year. Therefore, there is no requirement to accommodate the mother’s request. However, you certainly could explore different ways to keep the brothers together. Since the junior high the mother desires is near the high school, maybe the brothers could ride to school together, eliminating extra transportation costs. If the two schools have different start/end times, you could accommodate that by letting one brother into the school building early, or to stay late, to do homework.

We are considering making a form to share the names of our unaccompanied McKinney-Vento youth who need to be able to sign themselves out of school when they are sick. Can you give us any guidance related to this issue?

Answer: Let’s start with the legal authority for youth signing themselves out: State plans must include a “demonstration that the State educational agency and local educational agencies in the State have developed, and shall review and revise, policies to remove barriers to the identification of homeless children and youths, and the enrollment and retention of homeless children and youths in schools in the State.” (42 USC sec. 11432(g)(1)(I))

Your district has to have a way for unaccompanied youth to participate fully in school. That includes signing in and out due to doctor’s appointments, etc. The Mckinney-Vento Act does not prescribe a required manner to remove the barrier. So for example, if the youth has a caregiver, the district could have the caregiver sign the student in/out. But there needs to be a process for youth who truly have no one. To address the barrier, your district can establish the process that unaccompanied youth sign themselves out. That is the most common process we see.

Having a form to share the names of your unaccompanied youth with appropriate school staff who have “a legitimate educational interest” in the information (FERPA language) makes sense. You are sharing the information for a particular, education-related purpose — specifically, so that the school can appropriately implement the youths’ McKinney-Vento rights. You might want to share that information for other reasons too. Like for example, now that ESSA requires that McKinney-Vento students are assisted by school counselors, you might want to inform counselors who the McKinney-Vento students in their school are, so they can be sure to connect with those students and offer assistance. Counselors can help with partial credits, too (another ESSA requirement). Just like you let transportation staff know about McKinney-Vento students so they can provide timely and appropriate transportation, letting the front office staff know so they can allow students to sign themselves in and out is acceptable under FERPA and a good practice under McKinney-Vento.

The only caution is to make sure those you are informing have some basic trauma-informed and sensitivity training, so they use the information carefully and appropriately, and don’t stigmatize or embarrass the students.

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 years, that would weigh in favor of having the student register in the local school, especially now that we’re at a break between school years. The parent may feel safer having the student closer to where she is residing, as well. On the other hand, there may be factors that weigh in favor of keeping the student in District A, related to the importance of educational stability, peer networks, educational services, etc..  It’s an individualized, student-centered decision.

District A should make the determination based on this student’s circumstances and provide notice of that decision to the parent.  If the district’s determination is contrary to the parent’s wishes, the parent may wish to appeal.

With ESSA’s added McKinney-Vento preschool requirements, I assume that public preschools also should disseminate notice of the rights of homeless families and students?

Answer: Absolutely. Preschools are included within the definition of school of origin (we have a flowchart to walk you through those requirements), and providing access to early childhood programs is part of the liaison’s responsibilities. Given those requirements, public preschools should be posting McKinney-Vento rights information.

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 situation is as efficient as possible and unlikely to drop eligible students from your data or from services. Coordinating with the transportation department helps, too. As they find out that children have moved, they can give you a heads up so you know to check on whether the move was to permanent housing.

If you were to remove all the students and have them re-apply, it’s likely many would fall through the cracks. (Although a lot depends on what is involved in “re-applying”– If there is a system in place to reach out to the students and ensure those who remain homeless are not dropped from the program, that can work.)

Lastly, it’s a good idea to check with your State Coordinator. Based on the timing, clearing the database at the end of the school year could result in incorrect data reporting to the state, which would make that process a real problem.

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 transitional housing (definitely McKinney-Vento education eligible).  The labels are less important than whether the conditions of the housing can legitimately be considered fixed, regular and adequate under the education definition.

HUD labels often are not helpful, since the HUD definition of “homeless” is much narrower than the education definition, and since localities may implement HUD programs differently. Depending on the specifics, programs labeled as Housing First, Permanent Supportive Housing, and Rapid Rehousing certainly could qualify as “homeless” for education purposes.

For example, recently, we worked through a situation where a family was provided a voucher for housing in an adequate, independent apartment, scattered site, with no required services or hoops to jump through, and with the understanding that over time (1-2 years) the family gradually would take over the rent.  The lease was in the family’s name, and the track record of the program is that families move in and stay permanently.   A family in such a program probably would no longer be homeless under the McKinney-Vento education definition, because they would no longer lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence. In other cases, HUD programs like Rapid Rehousing and even Permanent Supportive Housing come with conditions and a track record of families having to leave in very short order. Those programs are more likely to meet the McKinney-Vento education definition.

Must charter schools enroll McKinney-Vento students regardless of whatever enrollment schedule the schools have set up?

Answer: Generally, yes. Depending on how the state organizes charter schools, they either are their own local educational agencies (LEAs) or part of another LEA. Either way, the McKinney-Vento Act applies to charter schools. ESSA amended McKinney-Vento to ensure that “homeless children and youths who meet the relevant eligibility criteria do not face barriers to accessing academic and extracurricular activities, including . . . charter school programs.” 42 USC §11432(g)(1)(F)(iii). Another ESSA amendment states that McKinney-Vento students are entitled to immediate enrollment “even if the child or youth has missed application or enrollment deadlines during any period of homelessness.” 42 USC §11432 (g)(3)(C)(i)(II).

Therefore, unless the relevant classroom is full, or the charter school has specific skill requirements the student does not meet (like a school for the arts that requires certain artistic abilities), the charter school must enroll the student, even if application or enrollment deadlines have passed. In addition, the US Department of Education’s Guidance states that “LEAs should anticipate and accommodate the needs of McKinney-Vento-eligible students to enter charter schools, magnet schools, and other schools, programs, and activities despite missing application and enrollment deadlines due to a period of homelessness. In addition, LEAs should consider giving homeless children and youths priority if there is a waitlist for these schools, programs, and activities.”

We have a family who has been told by the friend with whom they are residing not to give the physical address to the school. Is there anything in writing stating that the school can enroll without that address?

Answer: Yes, the McKinney-Vento Act itself specifically states that schools must enroll students experiencing homelessness immediately, even if the student is unable to provide documents that are typically required for enrollment, such as previous academic records, records of immunization and other required health records, proof of residency, or other documentation. The exact location of that requirement in the law is 42 U.S.C. §11432(g)(3)(C).

This provision means that families experiencing homelessness are not required to provide physical addresses as a condition of enrollment. However, the Act does not prohibit schools from requiring parents, guardians, or youths to submit emergency contact information. This could simply be a phone number.

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 authority’s determination. Therefore, that authority’s determination stands. “Conflicting information” would be very specific information indicating that a student is not an unaccompanied homeless youth. You can hear more about the FAFSA and homelessness directly from U.S. Department of Education staff in the webinar they did with SchoolHouse Connection in June.

Must charter schools set aside Title I, Part A funds for McKinney-Vento students even if they have not identified any students experiencing homelessness in the previous years?

Answer: Yes. Now that ESSA’s Title I amendments are in effect, all LEAs that receive Title I, Part A funds must reserve funds for students experiencing homelessness. Even if the LEA has not identified McKinney-Vento students in the past, virtually no LEA (charter or otherwise) can be 100% sure that they will never have a student experience homelessness in the coming year. Domestic violence, natural disasters, family conflict – all sorts of things can come up in the upcoming school year that could result in student homelessness. In addition, it’s important to look at liaison capacity and what is being done in the school/LEA to identify McKinney-Vento students. The fact that the school has not yet identified a McKinney-Vento student does not necessarily mean they’ve never had one, or that they don’t have several right now. The school may not have identified students experiencing homelessness due to insufficient identification and outreach activities. Our Guidelines for Designating LEA-Level and Building-Level McKinney-Vento Liaisons tool can help LEAs evaluate liaison capacity to determine if Title I funds should be directed to increasing that person’s capacity, which should help improve identification.

Therefore, LEAs should set aside some Title I, Part A funds regardless, possibly to increase liaison capacity, or at least because you never know when a new student will come in, and/or when an unanticipated need will come up.

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 academic year.” (42 USC 11432(g)(3)(A)(i)(II). Many (possibly most) states define “academic year” to include summer school. If that is the case, then the student can attend summer school at the school of origin, if it is in the student’s best interest.

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, and also use the enrollment forms that public schools use to identify students experiencing homelessness. That kind of referral and enrollment process also could help programs prioritize homeless children for enrollment and collect data on the need to reserve slots specifically for children experiencing homelessness.

If homeless families can’t access Pre-K because they lack documents to prove income, that would be a barrier to preschool enrollment that would violate the McKinney-Vento Act. Providing automatic eligibility would eliminate the paperwork burden on families and on State Pre-K. For more information on the McKinney-Vento Act and preschool, see our PreK-12 resource page.

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 the McKinney-Vento Act is an education law, it does not apply to employment permits.

Do McKinney-Vento State Coordinators or local liaisons have a formal relationship to juvenile court?

Answer: State Coordinators have a specific requirement to coordinate and collaborate with juvenile courts, found at 42 USC 11432(f)(4)(B). Liaisons have a number of collaboration and coordination duties, including around identification. While juvenile courts are not specifically listed, many liaisons collaborate with juvenile courts, probation officers and detention facilities to help identify juvenile justice-involved students who are experiencing homelessness, to keep them in school and facilitate transitions out of detention facilities.

One of our liaisons is trying to help a 15-year-old obtain her birth certificate. Her parents cannot be located. What can we do?

Answer: Our go-to resource for these kinds of questions comes from our colleagues at the National Network for Youth, in this document: https://www.nn4youth.org/wp-content/uploads/Appendix_State-by-State-Non-Driver-Identification-Requirements-FINAL.pdf

You can look up your state’s laws. Some states allow unaccompanied youth and/or youth of certain ages to request birth certificates on their own behalf. When the liaison starts working on this, we would suggest calling the appropriate office or if possible going to a physical office, with the youth. It is not uncommon for people processing these requests not to know the law and decline the application without further investigation. A phone call or office visit could help generate some awareness, and the opportunity to ensure the application is handled by someone who knows the law.

Does the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act contain parental consent/notification requirements for access to Basic Center programs?

Answer: While the statute itself does not contain such requirements, regulations from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Family and Youth Services Bureau do contain a requirement that a program contact a youth’s parents, legal guardians or other relatives within 72 hours of a youth entering the program. However, these regulations were revised last fall in response to comments from advocates, including SchoolHouse Connection, to specify that such contact is based on the best interest of the youth. If a program determines that it is not in the youth’s best interest to contact a youth’s parents, legal guardians or other relatives, or if such individuals cannot be located or the youth refuses to disclose their contact information, the program must inform another adult identified by the youth, document why it is not in the best interest to contact a parent, legal guardian or other relative, and send the documentation to the regional program specialist. You can read the requirements and other related information on page 34 of the regulations, and specifically §1351.24(e).

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. It would look like the screen shot below:

The financial aid administrator at the schools to which he is applying will reach out to him. They may ask for some kind of other documentation of his status, so it would be good if he has any kind of note from other adults or professionals in his life who can attest to his situation. If he does not have documentation from a liaison or a shelter, then the financial aid administrator must make a determination based on the legal definition of homeless unaccompanied youth. The financial aid administrator can make a determination based on a documented interview with the student.

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 arrangement that works for them, depending on the various logistics involved for the districts.

Do students in foster care automatically qualify for Title I services? And if they do, do they exit when they are reunited?

Answer: The assurances on foster care in both the state Title I plan and the local Title I plan cover all children in foster care, regardless of their academic standing. Therefore, we think it is very reasonable to conclude that all children in foster care are automatically eligible for Title I services.

Unlike McKinney-Vento, the Title I protections for children in foster care do not extend beyond a child’s stay in foster care. Hence, we think it is reasonable to conclude that automatic Title I status would conclude when a student exits foster care. Of course, a child who was in foster care might qualify for Title I Part A services based on their academic standing.

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 placement shall be made regardless of whether the child or youth lives with the homeless parents or has been temporarily placed elsewhere.” That statement addresses situations where parents are experiencing homelessness and have sent their children to stay somewhere else. That “somewhere else” may be a fixed, regular and adequate for the caregiver who lives there, but it is not fixed or regular (and perhaps not adequate) for the child placed there due to homelessness. In the example you shared, a parent was staying in a motel or park and sent her daughter to live with a grandparent. The student is McKinney-Vento eligible. Using the same example, if the child stays with grandmother long-term and grandmother succeeds in getting custody, and grandmother’s housing is fixed, regular and adequate for the student, the student at that point no longer would qualify.

This bottom line comes down to evaluating fixed, regular and adequate from the student’s point of view, and re-evaluating it over time.

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 determination— for example, is there some reason to believe her attendance would be better at a different school? We don’t see evidence of that in the information you provided, but there may be additional facts. Is there reason to believe her attendance at the magnet school will improve next year? If grandmother’s challenges have passed, the student may be on track for better attendance next year. And there will be other best interest factors, such as the educational services available at the magnet school, the importance of educational stability, etc. When all the factors are weighed, is it in her best interest to stay at the magnet school, or transfer?

A related issue is the absences. ESSA now requires LEAs to “remove barriers to the identification of homeless children and youths, and the enrollment and retention of homeless children and youths in schools in the State, including barriers to enrollment and retention due to outstanding fees or fines, or absences.” For this student, the absences are a barrier to her enrollment and retention in the magnet school. Assuming attending the magnet school is in the student’s best interest, the absences cannot be a barrier to her enrollment there.

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 officials, including teachers, within the district or school whom the district or school has determined to have legitimate educational interests. The district or school must use reasonable methods to ensure that school officials obtain access only to those education records in which they have legitimate educational interests. 34 CFR §99.31(a)(1). The mentors certainly would have a legitimate educational interest to know the student is McKinney-Vento eligible and to know about other needs.

As for parent permission or notification, we see no reason that would be required. This is part of the school day and takes place at school. The students choose to participate. We don’t see where parental permission would come into play.  If a mentor wants to spend time with the student outside of school, take the student on a college visit, etc., then you likely are moving into parental consent territory (but still would need to ensure full participation in this school activity, per the McKinney-Vento Act). That said, you might want to check with your State Coordinator just in case there is a relevant state requirement.

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, the McKinney-Vento Act will not apply. However, assuming that club basketball is a school activity, then McKinney-Vento does apply. McKinney-Vento defines “enroll” to include participating in school activities, which includes academic, athletic, and other school activities. So McKinney-Vento students need to be able to participate. In addition, as you said, if this student cannot play basketball, it could be a barrier to her retention in school, since basketball is keeping the youth engaged and successful in school.

The McKinney-Vento Act does not specify how the barrier needs to be removed— it could be the DHS worker signing, which as you said, would probably be the best resolution. It also could be a judge’s order, or the student just signing for herself. McKinney-Vento requires elimination of the barrier, but the “how” is up to the school district and the situation.

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 school. Based on that understanding, it is advisable to ask what the district would do if a non-McKinney-Vento student were bringing fleas to school. There could be several resolutions.

If for a non-McKinney-Vento student the district would:

  1. Keep the student home until the student was flea-free: then the district could use McKinney-Vento funds to fumigate the home and eliminate that barrier to attendance. The expense would fit under “(16) The provision of other extraordinary or emergency assistance needed to enable homeless children and youths to attend school and participate fully in school activities.” Also, it should go without saying that the district cannot keep a McKinney-Vento student out of school due to fleas.
  2. Do nothing: then it probably is not allowable to use McKinney-Vento funds to fumigate the home. The principal and liaison can explore other funding options to assist with fumigation, such as contacting vet offices, faith communities, or civic organizations.
  3. Use donations, PTA funds, or other funds to pay to fumigate the student’s home: then again, it probably is not allowable to use McKinney-Vento funds to fumigate the home. The district should use the other funds it would use for another student.
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 limitation on the requirement to reserve funds. The ESSA amendment to the language is as follows:

“(c) ALLOCATIONS … (3) RESERVATION OF FUNDS. (A) IN GENERAL.– A local educational agency shall reserve such funds as are necessary under this part, determined in accordance with subparagraphs (B) and (C), to provide services comparable to those provided to children in schools funded under this part to serve—  (i) homeless children and youths who do not attend participating schools, including providing educationally related support services to children in shelters and other locations where children may live.”  20 U.S.C. §6313(c)(3)(A).

Prior to ESSA, the phrase “who do not attend participating schools” limited the requirement to reserve Title I Part A funds for homeless children and youth only to those LEAs that had non-Title I schools.

ESSA deleted the phrase “who do not attend participating schools.” This was a substantive change in the law, reflecting Congress’s intent to eliminate the restriction on the application of the requirement to LEAs that have non-Title I schools. Without this limitation, all LEAs that receive Title I, Part A are required to reserve such funds as are necessary to provide homeless children and youth with services comparable to those provided to children in schools funded under Title Part A.

We also would note that the phrase “as are necessary” modifies the phrase “such funds”; it does not limit the actual requirement to reserve funds. All LEAs must reserve funds for homeless children and youth, based on the total allocation and prior to any allowable expenditures and transfers. The amount of the funds reserved must be “necessary” to provide services comparable to those provided to children in schools funded under this part.

Lastly, the word “comparable” does not mean “the same as.” “Comparable” is not defined in the statute, and if a term is not expressly defined in a statute, the term is given its ordinary, dictionary definition. The dictionary definition of “comparable” is “similar or about the same” or “of equivalent quality; worthy of comparison.”

Therefore, the mere fact that homeless children and youth attend a Title I school does not mean that they are receiving comparable services under Title I Part A. In fact, the statute specifically authorizes the reserved Title I Part A funds to be used for “services not ordinarily provided to other students under this part.”

A summary of all of the homelessness-related provisions in Title I Part A may be downloaded here.

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 school activities.  The law says “school activities”, not “academic activities.”
  • McKinney-Vento State Plans are required to describe procedures to ensure that “homeless children and youths who meet the relevant eligibility criteria do not face barriers to accessing academic and extracurricular activities, including magnet school, summer school, career and technical education, advanced placement, on-line learning, and charter school programs, if such programs are available at the State and local levels.” 42 U.S.C. §11432(g)(1)(F)(iii). Although the examples in this paragraph are generally academic in nature, the use of the word “including” means that the statutory examples are not intended to be an exhaustive list. The law also clearly states “academic and extracurricular activities.”  The use of the word “and” indicates that the law looks at academic activities and extracurricular activities as two different things.

This brings us to another question: what extracurricular activities are an integral part of school activities?  We think it has to have a tight relationship with the school, and what students in general do or have access to.  This is another area of McKinney-Vento where decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis.

For activities that do not have a close enough connection to school and what students in general do, or have access to, the next question to ask is what the district does for other students in poverty.  It is important to explore PTA funds, donations, or other ways to cover those costs.

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Can McKinney-Vento set-aside funds be used to pay for credit recovery for a MV student? Not to “get ahead,” but only for the purposes of catching up with classes that the student did not pass earlier.

Answer: The short answer is yes, both McKinney-Vento funds, and the Title I Part A homeless setaside funds, may be used for this purpose.

The U.S. Department of Education guidance states that Title I Part A setaside funds may be used for homeless students if the services are “reasonable and necessary to assist homeless students to take advantage of educational opportunities.”

Credit recovery certainly fits that description.

Also, two authorized activities in the McKinney-Vento Act speak to this issue:

  • The provision of tutoring, supplemental instruction, and enriched educational services that are linked to the achievement of the same challenging State academic standards as the State establishes for other children and youths. 42 U.S.C. 11433(d)(1).
  • The provision of services and assistance to attract, engage, and retain homeless children and youths, particularly homeless children and youths who are not enrolled in school, in public school programs and services provided to nonhomeless children and youths. 42 U.S.C. 11433(d)(7).

Lastly, ESSA put new emphasis on credit recovery by requiring States to have “procedures to identify and remove barriers that prevent students from receiving appropriate credit for full or partial coursework satisfactorily completed while attending a prior school, in accordance with State, local, and school policies.” 11432(g)(1)(F)(ii). School district liaisons are required to implement these procedures. 11432(g)(6)(A)(x).

Although this provision does not speak directly to the situation raised in your question—because the ESSA provision deals with credits for courses fully or partially completed—it reflects a strong Congressional policy in support of assistance with credit recovery.

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 funds for homeless children be made based on the total amount of Title I-A funding provided to the LEA.” The memo goes on to specify:

“[T]he ordinary meaning of the words in the statute, together with the available legislative history of ESSA, would seem to support the view that Congress had unambiguously directed that both reservations should be calculated independently based on the entire amount allocated to an LEA.… For example, if $100,000 were allocated to an LEA under Title I-A of the ESEA, then both the reservation of funds for homeless children under Section 1113 and the reservation of funds for equitable participation under Section 1117 would be based on that $100,000 total.”

Here is the statutory language:

(3) RESERVATION OF FUNDS.—

(A) IN GENERAL.—A local educational agency shall reserve such funds as are necessary under this part, determined in accordance with subparagraphs (B) and (C), to provide services comparable to those provided to children in schools funded under this part to serve—

(i) homeless children and youths, including providing educationally related support services to children in shelters and other locations where children may live;

(ii) children in local institutions for neglected children; and

(iii) if appropriate, children in local institutions for delinquent children, and neglected or delinquent children in community day programs.

(B) METHOD OF DETERMINATION.—The share of funds determined under subparagraph (A) shall be determined—

(i) based on the total allocation received by the local educational agency; and
(ii) prior to any allowable expenditures or transfers by the local educational agency.

(C) HOMELESS CHILDREN AND YOUTHS.—Funds reserved under subparagraph (A)(i) may be—

(i) determined based on a needs assessment of homeless children and youths in the local educational agency, taking into consideration the number and needs of homeless children and youths in the local educational agency, and which needs assessment may be the same needs assessment as conducted under section 723(b)(1) of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. 11433(b)(1)); and

(ii) used to provide homeless children and youths with services not ordinarily provided to other students under this part, including providing—

(I) funding for the liaison designated pursuant to section 722(g)(1)(J)(ii) of such Act (42 U.S.C. 11432(g)(1)(J)(ii)); and

(II) transportation pursuant to section 722(g)(1)(J)(iii) of such Act (42 U.S.C. 11432(g)(1)(J)(iii)).

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 violation of the McKinney-Vento Act.

The McKinney-Vento Act requires that enrollment be immediate, even if the child or youth is unable to produce proof of residency or other documents. McKinney-Vento families do not have to provide proof of residency, so a requirement that they do so, or sign affidavits, prior to changes in transportation arrangements violates the law. Further, the law requires LEAs to review and revise policies to remove barriers to the enrollment and retention of homeless children and youth in school. A policy requiring parents to go to the central enrollment office in person to change transportation arrangements erects a tremendous barrier to enrollment and retention of children in school. Most homeless families have transportation challenges and are not able to visit an office without expending money and time they do not have available. As you know, the law defines “enrollment” to include “attending classes and participating fully in school activities.” Therefore, the right to enrollment includes the right to attendance. For students receiving transportation to their school of origin, transportation is part of the right to attendance.

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 able to determine how the student’s situation fits under the law. In addition, the liaison also has the duty to ensure “the parent or guardian of the child or youth or (in the case of an unaccompanied youth) the youth shall be provided with a written explanation of any decisions related to school selection or enrollment made by the school, the local educational agency, or the State educational agency involved, including the rights of the parent, guardian, or unaccompanied youth to appeal such decisions.” 42 USC §11432(g)(3)(E)(ii). The liaison cannot provide a written explanation without understanding the full story of the dispute.

In no case should students be missing school or forced into a school contrary to their wishes while disputes are resolved. “The child or youth shall be immediately enrolled in the school in which enrollment is sought, pending final resolution of the dispute, including all available appeals.” 42 USC §11432(g)(3)(E)(i). While disputes must be resolved as expeditiously as possible, the liaison must take the time necessary to collect the information needed to mediate the dispute, apply the law, provide written notice, and consult with the State Coordinator or others as needed.

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 parent/youth). Building-level contacts can be instrumental in identification and ensuring full implementation of the McKinney-Vento Act and supports to students. However, the identification problems and undue hardships indicate that those LEAs need to provide better training to their building liaisons, so their determinations are correct. There may need to be a clearer protocol of how determinations are made, and a clear understanding that gray areas will be reviewed with the liaison prior to sharing the determination with the family or youth—but without delaying enrollment or services. If the current process and lack of training are creating barriers to enrollment and retention of students, that is a violation of the McKinney-Vento Act. It’s also important to note that ESSA now specifically requires liaisons to ensure that “school personnel providing services under this subtitle receive professional development and other support.”  42 USC §11432(g)(6)(A)(ix). So if the building liaisons are not adequately trained to make eligibility determinations, the liaison needs to train them better.

It’s also important for parents and students to know who the district liaison is and how to reach him or her, since the liaison is ultimately responsible for LEA implementation. ESSA requires: “State coordinators… and local educational agencies shall inform school personnel, service providers, advocates working with homeless families, parents and guardians of homeless children and youths, and homeless children and youths of the duties of the local educational agency liaisons, and publish an annually updated list of the liaisons on the State educational agency’s website.”  42 USC §11432(g)(6)(B).

If a court-involved student is attending a GED program run by a college and is no longer connected to any school district, is the previous district required to provide transportation?

Answer: No. Since the student will not be enrolled in an LEA, the school district is not required to transport. McKinney-Vento would not require the GED program to transport either, although you are right that the liaison and student should see if the college or GED program offers any transportation support. We also agree with your suggestion to check local TRIO programs, to see if they may be able to assist with transportation. You mentioned the student was court-involved. We would suggest contacting her lawyer, social worker, or other person involved in her court case. Whether it’s the juvenile or child welfare court, her lawyer could argue that transportation is creating a barrier to this young woman’s earnest efforts to complete her education, which research shows can help keep her out of court in the future. The judge may order an appropriate agency help pay for her transportation.

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 school/district were to give IDEA rights to the grandmother or surrogate parent in the situation as you have described it, the district could be at risk of an administrative complaint or even lawsuit from the mother. Once the student turns 18, the rights transfer to her. Also, if after a reasonable period of time the mother is not responsive to the school’s requests to contact her regarding the student’s IEP, it could become appropriate for the school to appoint a surrogate parent. More details about this issue are available in Surrogate Parents And Unaccompanied Homeless Youth Under The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act.

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 requirements apply to homeless children attending preschool? 
To the extent that an LEA offers a public education to preschool children, including LEA-administered Head Start programs, an LEA must meet the McKinney-Vento Act requirements for homeless children in preschool, including ensuring that a homeless child remains in his or her public preschool of origin, unless a determination is made that it is not in the child’s best interest. (See sections 721(1), 722(g)(1)(F)(i), 722(g)(3)(I)).”

This means that if there is an opening in the preschool program, a child experiencing homelessness must be enrolled immediately, even if they do not have proof of immunizations or other documents typically required for enrollment. The McKinney-Vento Act is federal law, and therefore supersedes conflicting state law and regulations.

In addition, under the new federal child care law and regulations, states are required to establish a grace period for children experiencing homelessness to comply with immunization and other health and safety requirements. Homeless children must be allowed to receive child care services during the grace period, while families work to meet health and safety requirements. In addition, federally-funded child care agencies are required to help families comply with immunization and other requirements during the grace period, and providers can receive payment during the grace period. Here is a link to a summary of those rules: https://www.schoolhouseconnection.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/CCDFSummary.pdf

We recommend talking to your State McKinney-Vento Coordinator and CCDF state administrator to learn more about how the state is complying with those new rules. The CCDF regulations also require training and outreach on homelessness, so it could be a good opportunity to cross-train on McKinney-Vento, preschool, and child care more generally.

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 utilities have been cut off. If there is no heat, electricity, etc., the situation also would qualify under “inadequate.”

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 foster care placement prior to December 10, and then moves into permanent housing before December 10, the student should continue to be served by McKinney-Vento for the rest of the year.  However, the guidance also states that a student who qualified as “homeless” due to awaiting foster care placement prior to December 10, and then is placed in foster care, should be served by Title I. The guidance question focuses on students “awaiting foster care placement,” but the answer equally applies to a student who is eligible as “homeless” under any part of the definition.

Here is an excerpt from question J-10:

“Beginning on December 10, 2016, those students who are awaiting foster care placement [eligible as “homeless”] under the McKinney-Vento Act and have been placed in foster care, will be covered under the foster care provisions in Title I of the ESEA.”

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 unaccompanied homeless youth) are a required update.  The student needs to go to fafsa.gov, log in, click on “Make FAFSA Corrections,” enter the FSA ID (username and password), and change and submit the information.  This can be done on paper, too.  Depending on how far along the student is in the process with her university, she also could contact the financial aid office there and ask for their help making the changes.

Also, make sure the student has the verification letter from you (regarding her status as unaccompanied and homeless), and that you also are ready to provide a copy if contacted. As you know, the process doesn’t go as smoothly for many unaccompanied youth, and things like changes in status sometimes even less so.

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 children should enroll at this point in the school year, it’s definitely worth researching any choice, transfer, or other state or local laws or policies that would allow them to continue in their same school until the end of the year.

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 right to make medical, educational and other decisions. That would be legally valid and does not need court involvement. There also could be court involvement and a guardianship or custody order, but that is less likely, due to the cost and time involved, if nothing else.

So in this situation, where it sounds like there is nothing giving the caregivers any rights (neither power of attorney nor court order), then McKinney-Vento is clear and rules the day. The student is an unaccompanied youth, and therefore the school must prioritize her wishes. (ESSA now requires that the liaison “assists in placement or enrollment decisions…, gives priority to the views of such unaccompanied youth, and provides notice to such youth of the right to appeal.”) Therefore, the liaison must assist in the decision and prioritize the student’s wishes. If he and the student are in agreement about school of origin, then that is where the student should attend. The caregivers have no legal say in the decision and no right to access the appeal process, because the youth can access the appeal process on her own.

If the caregivers get a power of attorney, then things change. While the liaison still must assist in the decision and prioritize the views of the youth, the caregivers have legal rights. The caregiver should be able to access to the dispute process. If they get an actual court order making them legal guardians, then the student technically is no longer an “unaccompanied youth”, and so in that case we think you have to treat the caregivers like parents.

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 requirements, even for students with transportation as a related service on their IEPs. McKinney-Vento states that the 2 LEAs involved must “agree upon a method to apportion the responsibility and costs for providing the child or youth with transportation to and from the school of origin. If the local educational agencies are unable to agree upon such method, the responsibility and costs for transportation shall be shared equally.” 42 USC 11432(g)(1)(J)(iii)(II).

Therefore, the 2 LEAs can enter into any cost-sharing agreement they wish. In fact, the Guidance states that when an LEA is being reimbursed for a portion or all of the cost of providing transportation as a related service, or if McKinney-Vento or Title IA funds permit, the SEA may “recommend or offer that this LEA pay more than half of the cost.” In the absence of an agreement, the LEAs split the cost evenly.

The new Guidance also notes that “some States may have policies that further clarify how LEAs within that State must pay for transportation for homeless students with disabilities whose IEPs include transportation as a related service or require attendance at a particular school. These State policies must be consistent with all Federal laws and regulations. Therefore, such State policies may apply only to situations in which a homeless student moves from one LEA to another within that particular State and not when a student moves from an LEA in one State to an LEA in another State.”

So for inter-district issues within a state, you would look at how your state regulations allocate financial responsibility and follow those.

I give students the FAFSA letter that states they are unaccompanied and homeless, or unaccompanied, self-supporting and at-risk for homelessness, for financial aid purposes; but what about for scholarship applications or college entrance applications?

Answer: If the student asks for copies of the FAFSA homeless verification letter, or asks a liaison/counselor to include a homeless verification letter in an application for college admission or scholarship, then it is fine for the liaison/counselor to provide it.  Under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), schools can release educational records without consent for the purposes of financial aid.

Full Question:  In regards to scholarship and college applications, I give students the FAFSA letter that states they are unaccompanied and homeless, or unaccompanied, self-supporting and at-risk for homelessness, for financial aid purposes; but what about for scholarship applications or college entrance applications?  What is the best way for those students to show documentation that they have no parental income to support them in their college pursuits?

Full Answer:  If the student asks for copies of the FAFSA homeless verification letter, or asks a liaison/counselor to include a homeless verification letter in an application for college admission or scholarship, then it is fine for the liaison/counselor to provide it.  Under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), schools can release educational records without consent for the purposes of financial aid.  However, if the information is for a college application or a private scholarship, it is a good idea to get a signed release of information.  The parent or legal guardian could sign, as well as a caregiver, or the youth herself is she’s 18 or if she’s unaccompanied. There is some great information on FERPA and releases of information for unaccompanied youth here.

If letters of reference are required for college or scholarship applications, the student could ask people writing the letter to reference the student’s homeless situation/status as part of the recommendation letter.

How does McKinney-Vento apply to a homeschool student? There is a parent in shelter who wants to homeschool her 4th grade daughter. She wants to access our McKinney-Vento program while homeschooling.

Answer: A homeschool student who meets the McKinney-Vento definition of “homeless” definitely can access your McKinney-Vento program. The services will be based on her needs, and there’s a lot that won’t apply, since she is homeschooled. But for example, if she needed transportation to a particular activity or test happening at school, you could provide that. You also could provide any supplies or backpacks, etc.

What are your thoughts on transitional housing from an adult treatment program, or transitional housing that is for previously incarcerated heads of household?

Answer: Transitional living programs are specifically included with the McKinney-Vento Act’s definition of homeless and are covered. But it sounds like you are raising a slightly different issue, where people are not necessarily in transitional housing due to a loss of housing, but because it may be a condition of a treatment program or probation. With that wrinkle, we’ll have to give you our standard McKinney-Vento answer to this one: it depends. (See below for full answer.)

Full Question:  What are your thoughts on transitional housing from an adult treatment program, or transitional housing that is for previously incarcerated heads of household? We usually talk around and around about the transitional programs that are attached to a treatment program. The transitional program with a priority for previously incarcerated people is kind of head scratcher. From what I can see, there are no time limits, and the program doesn’t officially call itself transitional housing, at least on its website. It is a sober living facility with many rules (no guests,…).

Traditional homeless transitional housing is easy; but it’s these programs that are transitioning people from a program or institution that cause confusion. Clarity please?

Full Answer: Transitional living programs are specifically included with the McKinney-Vento Act’s definition of homeless and are covered. But it sounds like you are raising a slightly different issue, where people are not necessarily in transitional housing due to a loss of housing, but because it may be a condition of a treatment program or probation. With that wrinkle, we’ll have to give you our standard McKinney-Vento answer to this one: it depends.

Remember, the fundamental definition of “homeless” is lacking a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence. Sometimes, a treatment program may call housing “transitional,” when it actually is adequate housing where the person can (and likely will) stay indefinitely.  That does not sound like McKinney-Vento.  In other situations, the housing is more what people think of as “halfway houses”, which are not fixed, regular and adequate. Usually, when housing is conditional in ways that are not usual (sober living, no guests, curfews) it is more likely to meet the definition of homelessness.

Another question to ask is where would the person live if not in that housing? Does the person have the means to live somewhere else, but perhaps this housing is a required step in the treatment program or the conditions of probation?  If the person is living in the housing not due to lacking an alternative, but simply because it is court-ordered or part of a treatment program, then it is unlikely a McKinney-Vento situation.  However, often the person has nowhere else to go, and if the family had to leave the transitional facility, they would end up living in a car, shelter, motel, or temporarily with others. That’s a McKinney-Vento situation.

If you could, please kindly comment on each of the following assertions about McKinney-Vento preschool transportation that I have seen or read or heard somewhere…

Answer: Preschool transportation is a new issue that is causing a lot of confusion.  Preschools have been added to the school of origin definition by the Every Student Succeeds Act, so that transportation to a preschool of origin now is REQUIRED, as long as remaining in that preschool is in the child’s best interest.

Full Question: If you could, please kindly comment on each of the following assertions about McKinney-Vento preschool transportation that I have seen or read or heard somewhere:

MCKINNEY-VENTO PRESCHOOL TRANSPORTATION:

  • is for ONLY those that were previously enrolled prior to becoming homeless
  • applies ALSO to students enrolled in a school OTHER THAN the school of origin
  • applies only to SPECIAL EDUCATION students, not REGULAR EDUCATION students
  • remains
    • non-required
    • and unfunded

Full Answer:  Preschool transportation is a new issue that is causing a lot of confusion.  Preschools have been added to the school of origin definition by the Every Student Succeeds Act, so that transportation to a preschool of origin now is REQUIRED, as long as remaining in that preschool is in the child’s best interest.  This is true, even if the school district does not otherwise provide preschool transportation.  So if a preschooler becomes homeless, and is staying in that preschool of origin, transportation is required. If that preschooler then moves into permanent housing, the child can remain in the preschool of origin for the remainder of the academic year, and transportation is required.

For other preschools (that are not school of origin), comparable transportation is required. Title I, Part A funds can be used to pay for preschool transportation (both to preschool of origin and other preschools; both regular Title IA funds and Title IA homeless set-aside funds).

And we just happen to have a document that should help: this flow chart provides a guide to understanding pre-school and the McKinney-Vento Act.

I assisted a 14-year-old unaccompanied homeless youth to enroll in school by giving the family with whom he is staying a caregiver form. The boy’s mother is upset that someone else would be allowed to enroll him in school. Did I handle the situation correctly?

Answer: You absolutely did the right thing for the 14-year old youth. The McKinney-Vento Act requires immediate enrollment in school for all homeless youth, including unaccompanied homeless youth. The law also directs schools to review and revise policies that act as barriers to enrollment, specifically those barriers related to guardianship.

Full Question:

We have a 14-year old boy whose suspension ended and needed to re-enroll back in school. He and his mother other have many issues in the home, so he ran away to live with his friend’s family. His friend’s mother called me and asked if she could enroll the boy back into school because the boy’s mother is not being cooperative.

After many phone calls with the school and working with enrollment personnel, we end up talking with this boy’s mother. She is very upset that her son is living with his friend’s family and that his friend’s mother would be allowed to enroll him into school. She explained to me the many issues she and her son are having in the home.  She recently got a new job. If she took any time away she would lose the job.

I gave his friend’s mother a caregiver form to enroll the student back into school. This has brought up many questions with the principal and administrators about letting strangers enroll kids in school, etc. I have explained the McKinney-Vento Act, as I always do, but there is still some pushback.  This is an unusual situation for me where a guardian is in the same town and very upset that someone else is enrolling the child into school, but is also unwilling to be involved at the same time.

I guess my question is first, did I handle the situation correctly by giving a caregiver form and helping the student get enrolled back into school?  Would you all have any suggestions for situations like this?

Full Answer: 

You absolutely did the right thing for this 14-year old student.  The McKinney-Vento Act requires immediate enrollment in school for all homeless youth, including unaccompanied homeless youth. The law also directs schools to review and revise policies that act as barriers to enrollment, specifically those barriers related to guardianship. You can remind the principals and administrators that you are following federal law, and that this specific issue (unhappy parent of unaccompanied youth) has been dealt with by other states, with the rights of the youth upheld. Our job is to ensure that youth are in school, so that education is not disrupted during family struggles.

The mother still retains her parental rights, and she can access educational records and otherwise be involved with the student’s education.  But as for other issues within the family, it is great to refer her to community services or other resources that can help the family with those issues.  But you need to be clear with her (and your administrators) that the school’s legal obligation is to educate in compliance with the McKinney-Vento Act, and that is what you are doing.
Here are some legal citations to help:

  • The McKinney-Vento Act requires schools to enroll students experiencing homelessness immediately, even if the student is unable to provide documents that are typically required for enrollment, such as previous academic records, records of immunization and other required health records, proof of residency, or other documentation. 42 U.S.C. §11432(g)(3)(C).
  • Enroll means permitting the student to attend classes and participate fully in school activities. 42 U.S.C. §11434A(1).
  • Lack of a legal guardian or guardianship documents cannot delay or prevent the enrollment of an unaccompanied youth. 42 U.S.C. §§11432(g)(3)(C), (g)(1)(H)(iv).
  • The McKinney-Vento Act requires states and LEAs to eliminate barriers to identification, enrollment and retention and to enroll unaccompanied youth in school immediately. 42 U.S.C. §§11432(g)(1)(I), (g)(7).
If a family changes their mind about their decision to leave the “school of origin” after becoming homeless, do they always have the right to return – no matter the circumstance? Please read the email trail below and help with this question.

Answer: Thanks for providing the timeline.  The answer to your final question is no. The right to attend the school of origin always is based on the best interest of the student.  Often (maybe even usually), it will be not be in a student’s best interest to return to the school of origin once he has enrolled in a new school and attended for a long period of time.

Full Question:

If a family changes their mind about their decision to leave the “school of origin” after becoming homeless, do they always have the right to return no matter the circumstance? Please read the email trail below and help with this question.

In summary:

  • 7/1/16 – 11/29/16 – The 5th grade student attended our elementary school from 3rd grade and into the current school year prior to becoming homeless (was in hotel) on 9/8/16.
  • 9/8/16 – Identified as in transition (family lived in a hotel).
  • 11/29/16 – Family moved to permanent housing and student enrolled in a new school near the new housing.
  • 1/30/17 – New school principal’s office calls our McKinney-Vento program (because our office had flagged student in database as homeless) to say the student “is having a hard time in new school and could you facilitate her return to her former school.”
  • 1/30/17 – Mother calls me to say the same thing that they are having difficulty in new school and want re-enrollment back to old school.
  • 1/30/17 – I provide transportation assistance to mother to go to old school principal to discuss; principal agrees to take back the student.
  • 1/31/17 – Old school principal emails me requesting for direction on how to effect the transfer; I email Central Enrollment Center (CEC) for assistance.
  • 1/31/17 – CEC is questioning the relevance of McKinney-Vento’s school of origin provisions, since the student had recently (last) enrolled in a different school
  • I/31/17 – I email CEC the 2-part definition: school attended when permanently housed orthe school in which the student was last enrolled. Our school is the school the child attended when permanently housed.

Now CEC is seeking guidance with the question that I am posing to you for guidance also.

Full Answer:

Thanks for providing the timeline.  The answer to your final question is no. The right to attend the school of origin always is based on the best interest of the student.  Often (maybe even usually), it will be not be in a student’s best interest to return to the school of origin once he has enrolled in a new school and attended for a long period of time.  At that point, disrupting the student again to remove him from the new school and place him back in a previous school, likely to involve a longer commute and the instability that comes from another transfer, is not likely to be in the student’s best interest.

In this situation, it seems that the parent, the administration at the new school, and the administration at the school of origin all agree it is in the student’s best interest to return to the school of origin.  The best interest is clear.  And it is very understandable, considering the student spent relatively few school days in the new school, has a multi-year history with the school of origin, and still has most of this semester left to make the most of the time at the school of origin.

The resolution of this situation probably would be different if there was disagreement about his best interest, or if it were now May and he had been attending the new school since late November.

We hope this is helpful!

I got a call from someone in our ELL Department asking about McKinney-Vento eligibility for sponsored immigrant families. This has always been a bit murky to me.

Answer: There aren’t always clear answers. It always depends on the individual situation and whether the students have a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence. Below are some examples when sponsored immigrants could be eligible even while they are with their original sponsors.

Full Question: 

I got a call from someone in our ELL Department asking about McKinney-Vento eligibility for sponsored immigrant families. This has always been a bit murky to me. I know there aren’t always clear answers, but here is a snapshot of what we are currently doing.

New Sponsored Immigrants: they are not eligible for McKinney-Vento on arrival, or eligible as long as they are staying at their first placement. If they leave that placement and become doubled up or in a motel, then they would be eligible.

Refugees: Pretty much the same as above. As long as they are in their first placement they are not eligible. If they then move from that situation into one that meets MV they are eligible.

Does this general approach make sense? And is it any different for immigrants that are not sponsored?

Answer: As general rules, these seem right. However, like you said, there aren’t clear answers, and it always depends on the individual situation and whether the students have a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence.

Below are some examples when sponsored immigrants could be eligible even while they are with their original sponsors.

Sometimes unaccompanied immigrant children are placed with sponsors that are totally inappropriate.  We have seen them placed with people who are labor trafficking them, for example.  Clearly that’s not a fixed, regular, adequate residence, and those children are McKinney-Vento eligible.

Other times they are placed with sponsors who themselves meet the McKinney-Vento definition of homeless (doubled up or in a motel, usually). Again, those children are McKinney-Vento eligible, even in their initial placement.

We don’t think the sponsorship actually matters very much.  It really depends on the living situations.  Sponsors supposedly have some level of legal responsibility for the children placed with them, but they definitely do not have guardianship, and there is little if any monitoring of how sponsors treat the children or even whether the children continue to live with the sponsors.  So, sponsorship – in terms of McKinney-Vento eligibility – is irrelevant.  It would depend on the living situation.

Here’s a brief and an eligibility flow chart that Patricia put together on this issue a couple of years ago.  They should help guide you through the process.

Can the school district homeless liaison be paid out of Title I Set Aside Funds?

Answer: Absolutely!  It is clear in the Title I law and also US Department of Education’s Guidance (Question M-10). For convenience, we provide the Guidance answer below.

“M-10. May Title I, Part A funds reserved under section 1113(c)(3)(A) of the ESEA be used to fund the local liaison position?

Yes. Title I, Part A homeless set-aside funds may be used to fund all or part of the homeless liaison’s salary even if that person has no Title I duties. (ESEA section 1113(c)(3)(C)(ii)(II)). In larger districts with significant numbers of identified homeless students enrolled, an LEA may also use Title I funds to support, as necessary, additional staff carrying out the required duties of the local liaison.”

I have heard that SNAP (or food stamps) is available to unaccompanied youth under the age of 18. However, I have had no success in making that happen in my state. Also, does it matter if a child has been at a certain address for an extended period of time?

Answer: You are exactly right that unaccompanied youth can access SNAP. There is no age limit and no requirement that youth live with their parents or apply with their parents. This memo from the USDA describes how unaccompanied homeless youth under the age of 18 are eligible for SNAP benefits.

Also, you can view a webinar about SNAP benefits for unaccompanied homeless youth, featuring our own Patricia Julianelle, Ty Jones of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and Courtney Smith of the Detroit Phoenix Center (and SHC Board member).

Additional Question: Also, does it matter if a child has been at a certain address for an extended period of time? For example, I have a student that has been with her boyfriend’s parents for almost two years. She is only 17. Mom lives in another state. I’m concerned that SNAP would say with the “stability” of her home address that she wouldn’t qualify.

Answer:  The length of time a student has a particular address doesn’t affect eligibility. There is no automatic homeless eligibility for SNAP (like there is for school meals).  Eligibility is based on income, and “household” size.  The definition of household is people who customarily purchase and prepare food together. The SNAP office could look at the length of time a student is in a particular place as part of determining whether the youth is part of the “household” with the other residents of the home.  But really, how long a youth is in a particular home is not relevant—the issue is whether they purchase and prepare food together.

Bottom line, this student should qualify for SNAP— but if she is purchasing and preparing food with the boyfriend’s family, they might all be considered one “household”, and that would mean the entire family’s income would count.  That might bump them out of eligibility.

If a school has reached capacity for a school year, does it have to enroll a MV student?

Answer: McKinney-Vento does not require a school to go over capacity.  One thing to keep in mind is that a McKinney-Vento student always has the right to remain in the school of origin.  So for example, a school cannot deny a McKinney-Vento student enrollment due to being full if the school is the student’s school of origin.  That student already has a seat in that classroom, and s/he can’t be forced to give it up to another student just because homelessness has the student living out of the attendance area or district.

But if a student is coming into the area brand new and seeking to enroll as a first-time student, and the classroom or program is full, there is no requirement to go over capacity.  If the school is able to make space, and it’s in the child’s best interest, that is terrific.  But it is not required.

Schools also should keep track of McKinney-Vento students coming in after the school is full, because that data can help the school plan for the future. The US Department of Education’s Guidance says:

“LEAs should anticipate and accommodate the needs of McKinney-Vento-eligible students to enter charter schools, magnet schools, and other schools, programs, and activities despite missing application and enrollment deadlines due to a period of homelessness. In addition, LEAs should consider giving homeless children and youths priority if there is a waitlist for these schools, programs, and activities.” (Question I-6).

So as data show the need to hold spaces open and/or prioritize McKinney-Vento students on waitlists, schools should take those actions. This is particularly important for preschools and other early childhood programs.

Are there any templates that school counselors could use to ask schools to send number of hours/partial credit time for our high school students? I know that under ESSA, homeless youth must be awarded full or partial credit for their coursework.

Answer: There are some great sample documents, including some sample letters, in this document:

http://kids-alliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/PCM_WEB_April2014.pdf

This manual is designed to support implementation of California’s partial credit law for foster youth (which now includes homeless youth), but much of it is applicable – or could be modified – for ESSA’s requirements on homeless youth. In particular, see pages 15 and page 19 for sample letters.

We will have more tools on this subject to share in 2017.

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