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Services for Homeless Youth

Students & Schools : Education Rights of Homeless Students – McKinney-Vento Act

What is McKinney-Vento?

The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act is the primary federal law dealing with the education of children and youth in homeless situations.  The McKinney-Vento Act protects the right of homeless children and youth to get to, stay in, and be successful in school while they or their families are homeless.  The law focuses on maintaining school stability and school access and providing support for academic success for homeless kids.  The law also requires schools and states to use child-centered, best-interest decision making when working with homeless children and their families to choose a homeless child’s school, services, and other needed resources.

Why do homeless children and youth need a federal law to protect their right to an education?

Homeless children and youth face lots of barriers in trying to enroll, remain, and be successful in school, including:

  • Enrollment requirements (school records, health records, proof of residence and guardianship)
  • High mobility resulting in a lack of school stability and educational continuity
  • Lack of transportation
  • Lack of school supplies, clothing, etc.
  • Poor health, fatigue, hunger, anxiety/trauma
  • Invisibility (lack of awareness)
  • Prejudice and misunderstanding
  • For unaccompanied youth (youth who do not live with their parents or a guardian): lack of adult guardian; need for employment; credit accrual policies; concerns of capture by authorities

Who are homeless children and youth?

The McKinney-Vento Act’s definition who qualifies as a homeless child or youth includes “Children and youth who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence,” including, but not limited to:

  • Sharing the housing of others due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or similar reason (“doubled up”)
  • Living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, camping grounds due to lack of adequate alternative accommodations
  • Living in emergency or transitional shelter
  • Abandoned in hospitals
  • Awaiting foster care placement
  • Living in a public or private place not designed for humans to live
  • Living in cars, parks, abandoned buildings, bus or train stations, etc.
  • Migratory children living in the above circumstances”

What educational rights does McKinney-Vento guarantee for homeless children and youth?

  • A broad mandate for all school districts to remove barriers to school enrollment and retention by revising policies and practices
  • Students can remain in their school of origin (“school of origin” means the school a child attended when permanently housed or in which he/she was last enrolled).
  • Students must receive transportation to their school of origin.
  • Students have a right to immediate enrollment, even if they don’t have all of their paperwork – for example, medical/health records, proof of residency, former school records, immunization records.
  • Students have a right to access to all of the school’s programs and services on the same basis as all other students, including special education, migrant education, vocational education, school nutrition programs (school breakfast and lunch), and extracurricular activities.

We used to live in District X, but since we’ve become homeless, we are now staying in District Y.  Which district does McKinney-Vento say my child can attend school in?

The law says your child can attend school in either district.  McKinney-Vento states that students can stay in their school of origin (in this example, District X) for the duration of homelessness or until the end of the school year after they find permanent housing, as long as that is in the child’s best interests.  Generally, the law prefers keeping children in their school of origin to the extent feasible, unless this is against the parents or guardians’ wishes.

Moreover, if you choose to keep your child in District X, the district must provide transportation to the District X school, as long as that is “feasible.” (“Feasible” is a somewhat subjective term – if the school of origin is in a surrounding county, that is usually feasible – if your new home is farther away from your child’s school of origin, it might not be feasible to travel back and forth every day).

McKinney-Vento also says that children can attend the local school where they are currently staying – any school that others living in the same area are eligible to attend (in this example, it would be District Y).

Remember that regardless of whether the child attends his school of origin or the local school, the child must be enrolled immediately.

Is there someone in my child’s school district who can help us and who is responsible for making sure the school follows the McKinney-Vento Act?

Yes.  Every school district is required by the law to designate a “liaison.”  The liaison’s responsibilities include:

  • Ensuring that children and youth in homeless situations are identified through school and community
  • Ensuring that homeless students enroll in and have full and equal opportunity to succeed in school
  • Ensuring that homeless children receive Head Start and pre-school programs administered by school districts.Informing parents, guardians, and youth of educational and parent involvement opportunities
  • Posting public notices of educational rights of homeless students
  • Resolving disputes
  • Informing parents, guardians, and youth of transportation services, including to the school of origin
  • Collaborating and coordinating with community and school personnel
  • If a homeless child or youth and/or his parents have encountered a barrier in enrolling in school, it is the liaison’s job to make sure that the barrier is removed, the policy changed – whatever needs to be done.  For example, if a child does not have his immunization records, the liaison should immediately enroll the child and then assist the child and his parents in obtaining new copies of the records.

What about “unaccompanied youth” – homeless teenagers who do not live with their parents and have no adult guardian?

McKinney-Vento applies to them, and unaccompanied youth have a right under McKinney-Vento to enroll in school immediately, regardless of whether they have a parent or guardian who can sign enrollment papers for them.  The school district’s liaison must help the youth choose a school and help get the youth enrolled, and should consider the youth’s wishes and inform the youth of her appeal rights.  The liaison should also make sure that school personnel are aware of the youth’s specific needs and are knowledgeable about issues facing runaway and other unaccompanied youth.

School districts cannot require adult caretakers to obtain guardianship of an unaccompanied youth as a condition of enrolling the youth in school.  Schools are also required to help youth who have moved around a lot to make up credits lost because they, for example, moved to another school before finishing a grading period, etc.

If you have further questions about homeless services available in the Black River Falls School District, please contact the district’s homeless services liaison, Mallory Knipe, or the state coordinator for homeless youth education, Lara Kain:

Mallory Knipe                                                                                    Lara Kain
1202 Pierce Street                                                                           Phone: (608) 267-7338
Phone: (715) 284-4357 ext. 3002                                           Email:
Fax: (715) 284-0364