About 1.3 percent of the Council Bluffs Community School District’s students are homeless, according to a district official.
The federal McKinney-Vento Act, which provides most of the guidelines to states and school districts on what they should provide to homeless students, was amended by language in the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015, which became effective Oct. 1, 2016.
“The McKinney-Vento, it essentially is saying that kids who experience homelessness have some rights other kids don’t,” said Tim Hamilton, executive director of student and family services at Council Bluffs Community Schools.
Under the McKinney-Vento Act, a homeless student is defined as A) an individual who lacks a “fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence, and B) includes one or more of the following: 1) children and youths who are sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship or similar reason; are living in motels, hotels, trailer parks or camping grounds due to a lack of alternative accommodations: are living in emergency or transitional shelters; or awaiting foster care placement,” according to the Iowa Department of Education website.
2) Children or youths who have a primary nighttime residence that is public or private, not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings; 3) Children and youths who are living in cars, parks public spaces or abandoned buildings substandard housing, bus or train stations or similar settings; 4) Migratory children who qualify as homeless under this subtitle because the children are living in circumstances described in clause (1) through (3).”
Homeless children have the right to attend school, no matter where they live or how long they’ve lived there. They can attend the school they originally attended even if they are no longer living in that area.
Most choose to attend their school of origin, Hamilton said. That gives them something stable during a time of change and upheaval. Preference is given to the student’s school of origin, unless it can be shown that it would not be in the student’s best interest.
“We work with them to provide transportation,” he said.
Homeless students can enroll in school immediately, even if they are missing documents. They can also participate in school activities while the school is still arranging for their records to be transferred.
“If they don’t have an immunization record, they can start school (anyway),” said Laurie Thies, director of special populations at Lewis Central Community Schools. “That’s so their education is not interrupted.”
They should have access to all school programs and services, including transportation and supplementary education services and should be integrated with other students. They should be able to participate in a school’s free lunch program.
Hamilton hopes schools can make a difficult situation a little bit better for the children.
“I would hope that we could make it easier for students and families who are homeless,” he said.
Among amendments to McKinney-Vento contained in the Every Student Succeeds Act was a provision stating that the appropriate child welfare agency could pay for transportation, it could be split between that agency and the local school district or the school district could pay for it, if it agreed to do so, according to an explanation on the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth website.
“We’ve had to send buses across state lines,” Thies said. “It causes some challenges for us, in terms of transportation, but it’s definitely in the best interest of the student.”
The amendments also expanded the availability of Title I-A funds that could be used for the McKinney-Vento Act’s Education for Homeless Children and Youth program, according to the NAEHCY. They also mandate that school personnel, including local homeless program liaisons, receive training on the act’s requirements.