What is the McKinney Homeless Assistance Act?

The McKinney Homeless Assistance Act “McKinney” is a federal law that requires all homeless youth to have access to the same free and appropriate public education that is provided to all other children. McKinney states that homelessness alone is not a sufficient reason to separate students from the mainstream school environment. McKinney requires 1) each state education agency to appoint a coordinator to ensure the education of each homeless child within the state; and 2) each state to review and revise all laws, regulations, practices or policies that may be barriers for homeless children’s enrollment, attendance, or success in school. McKinney also provides the States with money to distribute to programs created to meet the needs of homeless children. Each homeless youth is entitled to the education and services that will ensure them an opportunity to meet the same state standards to which all other students are held.

What is the Massachusetts Plan?

The Massachusetts Educational Plan provides services aimed at preventing homeless children from experiencing further instability in their lives. It tries to minimize their moves from school to school and to increase their access to a free, appropriate, public education.

Who are homeless youth under McKinney?

Generally, a homeless individual is one who does not have a fixed, regular, and adequate residence, or is primarily staying at a shelter, at an institution providing temporary residence for individuals intended to be institutionalized, or at a place not designated for, or not ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings. Children living in foster homes are only considered homeless if their placement in the foster home was due to lack of shelter space. Sick or abandoned children in hospitals are homeless if the only reason they are not released is because they have no place to live. Children living in trailer parks and campgrounds are homeless only if they are there temporarily there because they have nowhere else to stay. Runaways and youth who have been “thrown out,” who are living in a shelter, on the street, or who move from one friend’s home to another are considered homeless. Finally, children living in “double-up” situations are homeless. A double-up situation is when a child or youth is temporarily living in an over-crowded situation with friends or relatives because they have been displaced from their previous residence through eviction, abuse, public improvements, condemnation, substandard housing conditions, catastrophic event like fire, or over-crowding.

What is the residency requirement?

Massachusetts law requires that, “every person shall have a right to attend the public school of the town where he actually resides.” Every homeless child is entitled to start school immediately upon registration so long as the child has been properly immunized.

Can a child remain in his or her school after becoming homeless? Under McKinney, the district must determine what is in the best interest of the child, and either 1) continue the child’s education in his/her school for the remainder of the school year, or if the child becomes homeless between academic years, through the following year, or 2) enroll the child in the appropriate school in the district where the child temporarily lives. **Massachusetts Department of Education policy gives the child’s guardian (or if the child is 18 years old, the child) the right to choose whether the child should attend school in the district of origin or to enroll in the district of temporary residence. ** This is true whether or not the child is temporarily living separately from his or her homeless parents.

What happens when a homeless child moves to a permanent home?

A child who moves to a permanent residence during a school year has the right to remain, until the end of that school year, in the school s/he was attending while homeless. The child’s guardian has the right to make the decision about where the child should enroll. If the parent decides to keep the child in the school s/he was attending while homeless, and that school is not within the boundaries of the school district where the child is permanently housed, the child should be accommodated with proper transportation.

What services are available to homeless youth?

Eligible homeless children and youth must be given equal opportunity to participate in programs such as WIC, free and reduced lunch, food stamps and after-school programs. The Massachusetts Office for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth will work to remove any barriers that may limit eligible children’s access to these programs.

Homeless children are entitled to the same educational services that they would qualify for if they were not homeless, such as special education, extra-curricular and after-school programs.

What if transportation is a problem?

Homeless children who attend the school assigned to them by the local school district are entitled to the same school transportation that is offered to other children in the district. If a child is homeless, the local school may transport them to/from their school of attendance. Young children between pre-school age and seven years or children who cannot be transported on regular transportation, specialized transportation from the child’s temporary residence to the school of origin shall be provided until the end of the school year.

Homeless children with special needs who wish to continue to attend their original school (even though temporarily residing in another district) and who have transportation written into their Individualized Education Plan must be transported from their temporary residence to their school of origin until the end of the school year.

When a child temporarily lives in one school district, but under McKinney continues to attend school in his/her school of origin, in a different district, the district providing the education program shall make all efforts to transport the child to/from school. The school must make a good-faith effort to provide this inter-district transportation but if it is unable to meet the child’s transportation needs, the ultimate responsibility lies with the parent or guardian.

How soon can a homeless child begin school after registering?

All homeless children are entitled to start school immediately upon registration except if they have not been properly immunized. However, if the child has been properly immunized, and the records of immunization are on file with a previous school, the school nurses may communicate by telephone the immunization information. A parent of a child who is fourteen or older or at least in the ninth grade must first give written consent and must sign a release of information form.

If immunization history is missing, the student may not enter school, but school personnel should direct the child’s parents to the local Department of Public Health office or a local clinic where the vaccines are administered. If a nurse is eligible to administer the vaccines, he/she should do so. Lead screenings are also required for children at least once prior to entering kindergarten, but homeless children cannot be excluded from school because they have not been screened or do not have the proper documentation. They may start school with the understanding that a screening will occur within a reasonable amount of time. Information on lead screening can also be transferred over the telephone.

The school receiving a homeless child can verify the child’s general academic record regarding test scores, grades, etc., by telephone to the sending district. Special education records must be provided to the parents or an eligible child within two consecutive weekdays after request. Non-receipt of records cannot be used as a reason to delay services to a child. Schools should offer appropriate services based on information they do have until records arrive.

What if there is a dispute?

A Problem Management System exits for resolution of disputes. Complaints concerning students out of school will be given priority, and until a resolution is reached, a child will attend the school the guardians have chosen.