Q & A from our Inboxes

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

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...

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...

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...

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...

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...

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...

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...

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)....

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...

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...

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. Read more Q&A from Our...

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...

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...

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,...

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...

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...

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...

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...

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...

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...

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...

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...

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,...

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...

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,...

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...

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...

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...

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....

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...

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...

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...

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...

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...

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...

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...

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...

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...

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...

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...

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...

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...

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...

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...

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....

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...

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...

We always enroll without birth certificates, immunizations, etc., but we’ve had a few instances – not often – when parents do not have anything at all with them, including identification. Should we enroll them in school without any type of identification? 

Answer: You also are correct in immediately enrolling homeless students, even if they lack identification. The McKinney-Vento citation 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...

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...

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