District 65 Responsibilities
District 65 has certain responsibilities for serving students experiencing homelessness that are designed to minimize any educational disruption and provide supports for students currently undergoing a series of major transitions. These duties are specified by the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.
Every school district must provide information about the rights of and services for homeless children and youth throughout the community and the district's schools. This information should include school choices, transportation options, and contact information for the homeless liaison and any other relevant district personnel. It is important for this information to visible in places where families and children experiencing homelessness are served. Some locations might include but are not limited to schools, shelters, public aid offices, food pantries, public libraries, court houses, and police stations.
School personnel (the homeless liaison, typically) must also make sure special attention is given to locating children experiencing homelessness. Community outreach is designed to help community members become familiar with the signs of homelessness and to communicate the rights of homeless children and youth in schools to families experiencing homelessness and to the people who already work with them. When more people have this information, it becomes more likely that a child experiencing homelessness will be able to enroll in and attend school on a regular basis.
Schools can choose to identify students experiencing homelessness in many different ways. Most often eligibility is determined on registration at the beginning of the school year, but even if a student becomes homeless during the year, they are still eligible for services under McKinney-Vento.
Schools must protect the family's privacy and make sure they do not jeopardize the family's current housing arrangement when determining if students are eligible for services. Some of the best ways to identify students go along with community outreach:
- Providing annual awareness and sensitivity training to all school staff and support personnel, including professional development opportunities in learning how to identify and work with students experiencing homelessness
- Develop relationships with community agencies to assist in identifying homeless students who may need help accessing the school system or in confirming students' living arrangements in a non-invasive manner
- Talk to all parents, caregivers, and youth directly or through a general questionnaire about their living situation
The first step is always to get the facts about the family's or youth's situation. Then, these facts are used to determine if the student will be eligible for McKinney-Vento services:
- Does the child or youth's living sitation fit into on eo fthe specific examples of homelessness listed in the law?
- If the situation does not fit one of the examples provided directly, is the child or youth in another type of situation that is not fixed, regular, and adequate?
- Always seek additional input if uncertain about eligibility.
It is important that children and youth experiencing homelessness are identified by school personnel because these students are guaranteed services by law that the school is responsible for providing. In order to comply fully with the McKinney-Vento Act, school districts must make sure they are appropriately identifying students in their attendance areas. No matter the methods used to identify students as homeless it is important that the identification is done so sensitively.
Choice of Schools
Each student identified as being homeless has the right to attend either the school of origin or the local attendance area school.
School of Origin: The school attended prior to the loss of permanent housing or the last school in which the child or youth was enrolled.
Local Attendance Area School: The public school where the child is presently living that any student who lives in the attendance area is eligible to attend.
School districts have a responsibility to keep the child in the school of origin whenever possible, unless the parent/guardian prefers a local attendance area school.
School districts must continue the child's or youth's education in the school of origin whenever feasible:
- If a family becomes homeless between school years or during the current school year, the child or youth may remain in the school of origin for the duration of homelessness.
- If a family does find a permanent home, the child or youth may remain the school of origin until the end of the current school year.
School choice decisions should ALWAYS be student-centered and made on an individualized basis. Some important factors to consider include:
- Child's age
- Distance of travel to school - including the impact this commute might have on the child's educational experience
- Personal safety
- Any needs for specialized instruction or supports
- Anticipated length of stay in a temporary living situation
- Time remaining in the school year
- The importance of stability
- The school of origin is the first option to consider when looking at which school is in the child's best interest because this school offers the most stability for the student.
- Every decision must be made in the best interest of the child.
For important decision making consideration for school placement, click here.
School districts have the responsibility to enroll any child experiencing (or suspected of experiencing) homelessness immediately, even if they lack required enrollment documents.
It is important to note that the term "enrollment" applies BOTH to attending classes and participating in school activities.
Any child or youth experiencing homelessness has the right to enroll in the school of choice immediately even if he or she does not have the records/documents/information required for enrollment. These documents may include the following:
- medical records, including immunization records*
- proof of residency
- proof of guardianship
- previous school records
- birth certificate
*Note on immunizations: District 65 schools do require students to have certain immunizations on record by enrollment in certain grades. A lack of immunization records will NOT prevent homeless students from enrolling in school. However, school staff should direct these students to the homeless liaison who can assist the family in obtaining the records or in getting the immunizations required.
School districts must also enroll children or youth whose caregivers are not the parents or legal guardians. Additionally, the absense of any caregiver must NOT affect enrollment. Unaccompanied, homeless youth must be enrolled immediately, and the local homeless education liaison must act to identify and support these students.
To obtain school records, the enrolling school must request them from the previous school. Students must remain enrolled while records are being retrieved.
School districts must review and revise any policies, websites, forms, and other items that might act as barriers to enrollment for children and youth experiencing homelessness. This review will include how information about the rights of homeless students is being made available to the public in addition to enrollment and attendance procedures.
School districts must provide transportation to children and youth experiencing homelessness who are enrolled in the school of origin.
The parent, guardian, or caregiver should make a good-faith effort to provide or arrange for transporation, but it is ultimately the school district's duty to make sure appropriate transportation is provided. If the child's living situation takes him/her outside the attendance boundaries for the school district of origin, the two districts involved must agree upon the sharing of responsibility and cost for transportation.
Students who attend their local attendance area school may NOT necessarily be entitled to transportation assistance to and from that school unless the district already provides transportation options for non-homeless students. If transportation is an option, students identified as being homeless must meet the same criteria as any other student to receive transportation.
If the appropriate school placement has not been determined, the school district must provide transportation to the school of origin until the placement decision has been made.
Ensure Access to School Programs
The student's right to enroll in school includes the opportunity to fully participate in programs offered at the school and receive any support services, such as special education, if necessary.
School districts have the responsibility to create an "equal playing field" that allows all students to access all educational services and extracurricular opportunities available to students in their schools. The services provided for children experiencing homelessness must be comparable to those available to other students.
Students experiencing homelessness are entitled to receive any specialized supports or instruction available to other students in the school. These services include the following:
- Title I services**
- Special education and related services**
- ELL/ESL programs**
- Gifted and talented programs
- School nutrition programs
**Students must meet eligibility criteria to receive these services.
School districts can ensure access to school programs through a variety of different methods:
- Fee waivers, including free or reduced breakfast and lunch
- Special education identification procedures that are sensitive to the unique, changing school experiences for children and youth experiencing homelessness
- Coordinating services with community agencies to make sure students can access the school programs and activities
The district homeless liaison will be able to assist staff and families in understanding what services are available and how students can benefit from them.
Educating School Community
School districts should provide ongoing training and support to their school staff to ensure that their schools are able to meet the requirements under McKinney-Vento and state homeless education laws.
Teachers and other school staff should be aware of the different signs of homelessness. With this awarness, they will be able to help identify students who may be entitled to McKinney-Vento services. School staff should also know how to refer these students to district administrators and the homeless liaison to make sure appropriate services are provided.
Different staff members fill different roles both in the school and in students' lives. It is important that they are confident and understand the resources they have available to them that will help them to serve their students who are currently experiencing homelessness.
School districts must also collect data related to homeless children and youth. This data should also allow them to evaluate the efforts made by the school district to serve children and youth experiencing homelessness.
The goal in this process is to make sure that children and youth experiencing homelessness feel safe and welcome in the school environment. School staff who understand the situations their students face will be better equipped to work with them.
Some helpful resources for staff can be found through these organizations:
Coordinating Programs and Services
Coordination involves the school district working both with local social service and other agencies that provide services to children and youth experiencing homelessness and other school districts. These children and youth often need other resources that go beyond what the school district can provide but are just as important to allowing the child to be able to attend and succeed in school.
The purpose of coordinating services is to make sure that homeless children and youth have access to available education and related support services. This practice also raises awareness of the effect of the challenges associated with experiencing homelessness as a child or youth.
Coordination of programs and services can look many different ways. School districts should develop relationships with and coordinate with agencies providing various types of support to families and youth experiencing homelessness. Some agencies to consider include the following shelters, transitional housing facilities, domestic violence agencies, runaway and homeless youth centers, and public and private social services (i.e. Illinois Department of Human Services).
Coordination practices can help school districts better identify children and youth experiencing homelessness as well as connecting these families to community services available (food stamps, Medicaid, employment services, etc.)
Dispute Resolution Procedures
School districts must have a process in place for resolving any disputes between the district and any homeless child, youth, parent, or guardian. Disputes may arise over things such as enrollment or transportation. The dispute resolution procedures include the following:
- a process for immediately enrolling the student and arranging for any necessary transportation for the duration of the dispute;
- a discussion with the parent, guardian, or youth and the homeless education liaison to see if providing more information can resolve the issues;
- a letter explaining the district's position, making referrals to free/reduced cost legal help, and outlining the dispute resolution procedures;
- a fair and impartial individual familiar with the educational rights and needs of homeless children;
- an opportunity for both sides to present their case; and
- an opportunity for the decision to be reviewed by the State
Appoint Local Homeless Education Liaison
Each school district is responsible for appointing a local homeless education liaison who is trained on the liaison's duties specified by McKinney-Vento and who is available to families to implement the requirements of McKinney-Vento.
The liaison will ensure the following:
- Children and youth experiencing homelessness are sensitively identified by school personnel, whether currently enrolled in school or not yet attending school.
- If necessary, they will aid the child or youth in accessing the appropriate school.
- These children and youth enroll in and have a full and equal opportunity to succeed in the district's schools.
- Homeless families' children and youth receive all educational services for which they are eligible, including Head Start and preschool programs as well as referrals for healthcare, dental care, mental health, and other appropriate services.
- Parents and guardians of homeless children and youth are informed about the district's educational services and opportunities and are given meaningful opportunities to participate in their child's education.
- Public notice of the educational rights of homeless children and youth is disseminated in places where families experiencing homelessness are served.
- Disputes between the school district and homeless parents are handled in accordance with applicable law and the dispute resolution procedures
- Parents or guardians of children and youth experiencing homelessness are fully informed of all transportation services available and are assisted in accessing transportation to the school that is selected.
- Staff coordinate and collaborate with personnel responsible for the provision of related services to homeless children and youth.
- Special attention is given to locating and enrolling homeless children and youth not currently in school.
Click here to view contact information for District 65's homeless education liaisons.