Homeless Students and School

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The Public Justice Center and Megaphone Project collaborated on a film explaining homeless students' rights.

The second part of the film Beyond Debate.

The following is a general description of a school's duties and the student's rights when a student is homeless. Each situation is different. You will probably need legal help if a student:

  • may be covered by the McKinney Act and state regulations, and
  • her problem enrolling or transferring cannot be resolved.

Who is considered Homeless?

School age children who are homeless (or become homeless) have legal rights under a federal law called "The McKinney Act." The word homeless does not mean only someone who literally lives on the street. In the words of the law a homeless student includes:

  • "an individual who lacks a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence; and
  • an individual who has a primary nighttime residence that is:
    • a supervised publicly or privately operated shelter designed to provide temporary living accommodations;
    • an institution that provides a temporary residence for individuals intended to be institutionalized; or
    • a public or private place not designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings."

Read the law: 42 U.S.C. § 11302  

A "homeless" student is any child who is living in a motel, in a shelter, with family members or friends, in a car, in a park, or in a any other public place because her family has lost their housing or have no housing.

What must schools do?

The Maryland State Department of Education and local school boards have certain obligations to help homeless students.

Each local school system is required to have "policies to eliminate barriers to enrollment, retention and success in school of homeless children." Each school system must have a plan to address:

  • transportation issues;
  • delay in enrollment due to residency rules;
  • lack of documents such as birth certificates, school records, immunization records, or other documentation; and
  • guardianship issues.

Each school system also must have a "homeless education coordinator" who is responsible for helping children who are covered by these rules.

Which school will a child attend?

School systems must consider "the best interest of the child" when they enroll homeless children in a school. Generally, the school system must allow the child to continue attending or enroll in the parent's choice of:

  1. the school of origin for the remainder of the academic year or,
  2. if the student becomes homeless between academic years, the school of origin for the following academic year; or
  3. the school in which non-homeless students (who live in the same area) are eligible to attend. (This refers to the school "attendance" area in which the homeless student is currently living.)

A school cannot delay enrollment because the student is unable to produce school, medical, or residency records. And the school must help obtain any records from a previous school.

Transportation - The school also must provide the student with transportation from wherever she is living to the school.

Filing a grievance - Each school system must have a grievance procedure to resolve problems within five days. The parent can appeal to the superintendent of the school system, to the local school board, and to the State School Board. Until the grievance is resolved the student must be allowed to attend either:

  • the school she was in before or,
  • the school nearest the place she lives.

An example of good school policy

The Prince George's County school system has an exemplary procedure for solving the problems of homeless students. The written policy of this school system can be read or downloaded as an Adobe PDF file. There are also some related PDF documents which include forms to apply for services and transportation.

Source: 

Reviewed and Revised by the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau.
Is this legal advice?

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