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Archived Homeless List Serve Messages

SUBJECT:  Barriers to School Enrollment and Retention of Students Experiencing Homelessness

ListServe Message Date:  September 10, 2012

Under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Act, school districts must eliminate barriers to the school enrollment and retention of students experiencing homelessness.  They must also provide or arrange transportation for students who want to stay at their school of origin.  Again, homeless children and youth must be immediately enrolled and be attending classes.  There is not a time limit on homelessness.  Whether a child or youth meets the definition of homelessness depends upon the living situation and the individual circumstances. 

If your district has a policy and/or a procedure to drop homeless children and youth at the end of the school year, it is seen as a barrier to the education of homeless children and youth.  It could also be construed as discriminatory especially, if your LEA is not dropping all students enrolled in your LEA at the end of the school year.  If your district would like to re-evaluate each homeless situation at the beginning of a school year, you may do so.  However, you must immediately enroll those students pursuant to the McKinney-Vento Act. 

The following are questions from The 100 Most Frequently Asked Questions on the Education Rights of Children and Youth in Homeless Situations published by the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth and the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty:

3. Is there a time limit on how long a child or youth can be considered homeless?

A: No, there is no specific time limit on homelessness. Whether a child or youth meets the definition of homelessness depends upon the living situation and the individual circumstances. It is a case-specific inquiry. Due to the extremely limited incomes of most families experiencing homelessness (on average, less than half the federal poverty line) and the severe shortage of affordable housing across the country, experiences of homelessness can sometimes last an

extended period of time.

12. Is there any procedure in place to prevent families who have permanent housing from claiming to be homeless just to obtain McKinney-Vento services?

A: Yes. Every school district must designate a liaison for students experiencing homelessness.  42 U.S.C. §11432(g)(1)(J)(ii). One of the liaison's duties is to identify children and youth who meet the statutory definition of homeless. 42 U.S.C. §11432(g)(6)(A)(i). School districts must enroll students experiencing homelessness immediately. If, after enrollment, it is determined that a student is not homeless as defined in the law, school districts should follow the policies that are in place to address other forms of fraud. Written notice should be given to the parent, guardian, or youth, including his or her right to appeal the decision. Over the past 20 years, documented cases of families falsely claiming to be homeless have been extremely rare; the few cases that have been documented were resolved quickly at the district level.

18. What factors should be considered for keeping children at their school of origin to the extent feasible?

A: Students must be allowed to attend their school of origin "to the extent feasible." [School of origin is defined as the school the student attended when permanently housed, or the school in which the student was last enrolled. 42 U.S.C. §11432(g)(3)(G).] Changing schools significantly impedes students’ academic and social growth. The literature on highly mobile students indicates that it can take a student four to six months to recover academically after changing schools. Many studies also have found highly mobile students to have lower test scores and overall academic performance than peers who do not change schools. Therefore, the McKinney-Vento Act calls for school districts to maintain students in their school of origin to the extent feasible, unless that is against the wishes of the parent of guardian. 42 U.S.C. §11432(g)(3). Students have the right to attend the school building of origin; this provides continuity of instruction, teachers, and peers. Considerations for changing schools, other than as a result of a parent, guardian or unaccompanied youth’s wishes, must be based on a student centered individualized determination. Factors that may be considered include:  the age of the child or youth; the impact the commute may have on the student’s education; personal safety issues; the students’ need for special instruction; length of anticipated stay in temporary shelter or other temporary location; and time remaining in the school year. There may be other student centered factors not enumerated here that will help determine feasibility. Above all, feasibility is a child-centered decision. 2003 Guidance, p. 12.

19. Can a student finish the school year or semester in the school of origin?

A: Yes. Students have the right to remain in the school of origin for the duration of homelessness. In addition, if a student moves into permanent housing during the school year, the student can finish that academic year in the school of origin. 42 U.S.C. §11432(g)(3)(A).


24. Sometimes a student in a homeless situation will enroll in a new school, because the parent/guardian or unaccompanied youth was not informed of the student’s right to remain in the school of origin. In that case, does the student still have the right to go back to the school of origin?

A: Yes. If parents or youth are not informed of their rights, then the school district must enroll the student in the original school of origin, consistent with the parent’s or youth’s wishes (and feasibility). The school district is required to inform families of their rights. 42 U.S.C. §§11432(g)(6)(A)(i), (iv), (v), (vii). Not knowing one’s rights does not mean not having the


The 100 Most Frequently Asked Questions on the Education Rights of Children and Youth in Homeless Situations can be found on the following website:

If you have any questions, please contact Donna Cash at 573-522-8763.

Donna Cash

Supervisor, Federal Compliance

Coordinator, McKinney-Vento Program

Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

P.O. Box 480, 205 Jefferson Street

Jefferson City, MO  65102-0480

Office:  573-522-8763  Fax:  573-526-6698

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