Rights of Public School Students who are Away from their Homes

Posted on: January 20, 2021
The information provided on this post does not, and is not intended to, represent legal advice. All information available on this site is for general informational purposes only. If you need legal help, you should contact a lawyer. You may be eligible for our free legal services and can apply by calling our Covid Legal Hotline at 1-844-244-7871 or applying online here.

Updated 8/22/2022

Federal and state laws help students stay in or get into schools if they are homeless or do not have stable housing. They do not just protect children on the street or in a homeless shelter. The laws protect children and youths who do not have “a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.”

This includes children who:

  • are “doubled up” or had to move in with others—such as family members and friends due to a loss of housing, economic hardship, domestic violence, a natural disaster, or similar reasons
  • were sent to live with others because their caretaker could not afford proper housing or was urgently hospitalized for illness
  • live in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camping grounds due to lack of other housing
  • live in emergency or transitional shelters
  • have been abandoned by their parents
  • live at night in a public or private place not designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping place
  • live in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations, or similar places; and
  • foster children

These laws apply to children and youth until high school graduation or equivalent (up to age 21).

These children are entitled to the same access to public school and public pre-school programs as other children.

Where does this protection come from?

Most is from the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. Foster children in Louisiana are protected by LA Revised Statute § 17:238.

Are students who lose housing due to COVID-19 covered by the Act?

Yes. Students in the list above because of COVID-19 are considered homeless under the McKinney-Vento Act. So they are entitled to the same legal protections and services as other students experiencing homelessness or inadequate housing.

Who can I contact for help if my child is homeless?

Each school district has a “Homeless Liaison.” This person can help your child get enrolled, receive school supplies, free school meals, transportation to and from your child’s school, tutoring, and help connect the family with community support agencies. You can find the contact information for your child’s school district here.

If my child is in the list, can they stay in the same school?

Yes. Unless you agree to move your child to a different school, your child’s school from before becoming homeless is required to try and keep your child enrolled there. A public school cannot deny enrollment to any child because that child has no permanent address. The school your child attended before becoming homeless is called his or her “school of origin.”

If my child becomes homeless, can they change schools to where they are currently staying?

Yes. The student also the option of enrolling in school where they are currently living, even if it is outside of their original school district. However, the school may later dispute the enrollment

What happens if the school tries to move my child out of a school or refuses to let them enroll?

The school district must make placement decisions based on the best interests of the student.

Under the law:

  • The local Homeless Liaison will decide the dispute between you and the school.
  • The child must be allowed to attend the school until a decision is made.
  • You must be given a written explanation of the decision, including how to appeal.

The Homeless Liaisons are used to helping children in dire circumstances and usually very helpful.

My child is missing documents required for enrollment. Can they still enroll?

Yes. A school must immediately enroll a student in the list, even if the student does not have documents normally required for enrollment, such as academic and medical/immunization records or proof of residency. Once enrolled, the Homeless Liaison for the school must help the family or guardian obtain the necessary records and/or immunizations.

If my child obtains permanent housing during the school year, will they have to change schools?

No. Under the law, a student who went through homelessness (as set out in the list above) and gains permanent, adequate housing during the school year has the right to stay at their current school until the end of the school year.

If my child is in the list, can they get transportation to and from school?

Yes, until the student gets permanent housing. The Homeless Liaison will help arrange transportation to and from school. In general, transportation is available if one hour or less in each direction. Transportation must be made available even if the school does not provide it for other students.

The school may use a school bus or provide access to public transportation, like public bus passes. Factors like the distance from the school and the child’s age will be considered in making transportation arrangements.

This only applies to students who are currently homeless (in the list above). If a student gets permanent housing outside of the school district, the school can decide whether to continue transportation.

If my student is homeless, can they get free school lunch?

Yes. Homeless students are automatically eligible for free school lunch. Paperwork should be completed during the registration process with the Homeless Liaison.

If my student is homeless, can they participate in school programs and activities?

Yes. Students experiencing homelessness have the right to fully participate in activities including enrichment programs, such as tutoring, gifted and talented programs, and test preparation and homework help programs; after-school programs; and extra-curricular activities, such as clubs and sports. If a homeless student meets the requirements for the activity (attendance, grades, try-outs, etc.), and a fee will be a barrier, the fees should be waived or paid for by the district. If the fees are not directly covered by the school district, the district should connect the student with other funding sources such as booster clubs, the school PTA, or non-profit organizations.

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