July 28, 2016: ED Stresses Importance of Ensuring Continuity Of Education for Homeless Students

Today the U.S. Department of Education (“ED”) issued guidance and a Dear Colleague Letter today outlining the educational rights of homeless children and youths under Section 724(c) of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (McKinney-Vento Act), as amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The number of homeless students has increased in recent years, and ED has stressed that it is more important than ever to ensure that this vulnerable population does not face obstacles to enrolling, attending, and succeeding in school.

The McKinney-Vento Act defines homeless children and youths as individuals who lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence. This can include students who are living in motels, camp grounds, shelters and vehicles. Under McKinney-Vento, state and local educational agencies are required to ensure that homeless students have equal access to a free, appropriate public education, including a public preschool education. Educational agencies are urged to review and revise their regulations, practices and policies to remove barriers to enrolling and retaining homeless students in schools. To help ensure the success of homeless students, each educational agency must designate a local liaison for homeless children and youths.

In its new guidance, ED has noted some of the changes under the ESSA amendment of the McKinney-Vento Act that will become effective on October 1, 2016, including:

  • More emphasis will be placed on identifying homeless children and youths, including requirements that educational agencies provide training and professional development opportunities to help staff identify and meet the needs of homeless students.
  • There is a presumption that keeping homeless students enrolled in the school of origin is in their best interest, unless that is contrary to the wishes of the student’s parent or guardian or the student (if an unaccompanied youth).
  • Homeless students must be provided access to academic and extracurricular activities, including special education services, preschool, summer learning, gifted/talented programs, online learning, charter schools, before- and after-school care, school nutrition programs, transportation, and assistance for English language learners.
  • School districts’ homeless student liaisons will have new authority to affirm the eligibility of identified homeless children and youths who meet the definition of homeless for housing programs administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
  • Dispute resolution procedures may now be used to address homeless student eligibility issues, as well as school selection and enrollment. A homeless child or youth must be immediately enrolled in the school in which placement is sought and transportation must be provided until the dispute is resolved, including any appeals.

Links to the Dear Colleague Letter, as well as ED’s Education for Homeless Children and Youths Program Non-Regulatory Guidance and a supporting Fact Sheet, are included below for your convenience.

Guidance: http://bit.ly/2aACXHP

Letter: http://bit.ly/2aqdRxd

Fact Sheet: http://bit.ly/2aAGuWD

Please contact one of our attorneys if you have any questions about current homeless student requirements or ED’s new guidance and its impact on school district policies and procedures.