Written By: Nora Laidman
The often cited McKinney-Vento Act is a series of laws set in place to protect the right to go to school for students experiencing homelessness. This law covers any student without a fixed, regular nighttime residence, also known as Students in Temporary Living Situations, in the Chicago Public School Act. This umbrella covers students living in shelters, those living doubled up (with a family or friend due to financial constraints), students staying in motels or trailer parks, and those living in cars or any place that is not ordinarily used for sleeping.
A principal pillar of this act is the right of students to stay in their school of origin even if they move due to loss of housing. If they are to stay, transportation shall be provided to them in the form of a bus, public transportation pass for child and parent, or other means. According to the National Law Center of Homelessness and Poverty (NCLHP), students remaining in their original school while homeless “means they are less likely to fall behind in their schoolwork, repeat a grade, receive unsatisfactory scores on standardized tests, or drop out of school. They can also find comfort with familiar teachers, friends, and activities”. Should a school transfer be necessary, the act further requires that schools enroll students immediately without typically required records such as proof of residency, immunizations, school records and other papers.
Another key tenement of this act is a student’s right to get all the school services they need, a foundation laid by the Title I Elementary and Secondary Education Law. Its purpose is to grant funding needed to educate disadvantaged children and give them whatever extra academic help and resources they may need. By these laws, students must also be given access to all field trips, before and after school activities, as well as extracurriculars such as sports. For children with disabilities, all special education needs and services must be met. Students must also be tested for gifted programs and granted equal opportunity to partake in them.
Should these rights come into dispute, the student is to be placed immediately into the school and given services until the dispute is resolved. The school must place the family with a liaison who will quickly resolve the conflict. If it is not resolved quickly or their needs are not met, the family has three routes as listed by the NCLHP . The first is to contact their state coordinator. For Illinois this is Marica Cullen, reached at 217-557-7323. A lawyer is another useful resource, with free legal services available at www.lawhelp.org and www.lsc.gov. Lastly, contacting the U.S. Department of Education is a step families can take into getting schools investigated that do not follow the law. To reach the Department’s Education for Homeless Children and Youths Program, call (202) 260-4412.
-Nora Laidman, Americorps
"Education of Homeless Children and Youth: A Guide to Their Rights .” National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty - About Us, June 2011, www.nlchp.org.
“Title I, Part A Program.” Home, US Department of Education (ED), 5 Oct. 2015, www2.ed.gov/programs/titleiparta/index.html.