Flood, Fire, and Families: The Enrollment and Education of Displaced Students – By: Betsey Helfrich

Published by MoASBO, March 2018

We all watched with heavy hearts as Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma devastated the states of Texas, Florida, and the Atlantic region.  Missouri has also experienced its share of historic flooding and storms over the past few years.  Many experienced this trauma firsthand and will be living with the impact of this storm for decades and in some cases, a lifetime.

Families impacted by storms and other natural disasters are often forced to re-locate and move in with relatives while they re-build their lives.  Per the U.S. Department of Education, it is estimated that after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, approximately 372,000 students from Louisiana and Mississippi were not able to return to class in their local public or private school.[1]

It is important to remember that students displaced from their home and local school may be covered by the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Improvements Act.  The McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Improvements Act, originally passed in 1987 and Reauthorized by the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015, is the federal law that outlines a school district’s responsibilities with respect to educating homeless children and youth.  42 USC 11431 et seq.  The McKinney-Vento Act covers children and youth who meet its definition of homelessness.  Under the Act, homeless children are those who lack a “fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.”  42 USC 11434a(2).  This definition includes, but is not limited to, children and youth who are, “sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing…; are living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camping grounds due to the lack of alternative adequate accommodations; and are living in emergency or transitional shelters….” 42 USC 11434a(2).  “Loss of housing” in the definition above can include destruction of a home due to flood or natural disaster.  Accordingly, students now living in your district with family members because of the loss of, or damage, to their own home may meet the definition of “homeless” under McKinney-Vento.

McKinney-Vento requires that once we determine that a student qualifies as homeless, we must remove barriers to their enrollment.  See U.S. Department of Education McKinney-Vento Non-Regulatory Guidance 2004 at p.5.  Therefore, we may have to prepare and remind our registrar’s office how to respond to families who are relocating to our school district and consider what modifications are needed to our normal enrollment procedures, including waiving typical requirements for proof of residency and health records.

Also, it is a good time to ensure that your school district has properly appointed a homeless liaison.  As required by the law, each school district must designate a McKinney-Vento liaison to serve as the point person for ensuring district compliance with McKinney-Vento and to serve as the contact person between families and school staff to assist with integration of homeless students in their new environment. 42 USC 11432(g)(1)(J)(ii).

Additionally, homeless students who are also students identified with a disability under the IDEA are entitled to a Free and Appropriate Public Education (“FAPE”) in their new district.  In 2008, the U.S. Department of Education issued a publication entitled, “Questions and Answers on Special Education and Homelessness”.  In this publication the Department notes that, “[h]omeless children with disabilities and their parents are subject to the same IDEA protections and requirements as children with disabilities and their parents who are not homeless.” Id., p. 5.  Indeed, the student’s “ability to participate in special education programs cannot be hindered by homelessness….” Id.

The IDEA regulations and the Missouri State Plan for Special Education address the transfer of a child with a disability to a new school within their home state and to a new state.  See 34 CFR 300.323 (e)-(f).  With regard to a student with an IEP that transfers to a new state, the new school district in consultation with the child’s parents, must provide the child with FAPE (including services comparable to those described in the child’s IEP from the previous school), until the new school conducts an evaluation (if determined to be necessary by the new school district) and develops, adopts, and implements a new IEP. 34 CFR 300.323(f).  The “Questions and Answers on Special Education and Homelessness” publication provides guidance to schools regarding steps to take when a student who is homeless is unable to provide a copy of their previous IEP.  Id., at page 22-23.

By working with school homeless liaisons and registrars about the requirements for assisting displaced students now, we will be ready to be ready to ensure a smooth transition for these students when needed.

1 https://www2.ed.gov/about/reports/annual/2005report/1a/edlite-1a2a-katrina.html

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