at Advocates for Children
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New York, NY 10001
The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act [PDF] is a federal law that entitles children who are homeless to a free, appropriate public education, and requires schools to remove barriers to their enrollment, attendance, and success in school. The purpose of the McKinney-Vento Act is to promote school continuity for children who are experiencing instability with their housing. (M-V Section 721).
Children and youth should be considered homeless for the purposes of the McKinney-Vento Act when they:
- live in emergency or transitional housing
- share housing due to loss of housing or economic hardship ("doubled-up")
- live in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camping grounds due to lack of alternative adequate housing
- are awaiting foster care placement
- live in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, or bus or train stations
- have a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not designed for, or ordinarily used as, regular sleeping accommodations
(M-V Section 725(2); N.Y. Educ. Law § 3209(a)(2)).
Under what circumstances should a student be designated homeless?
A student should be designated homeless if she lacks a fixed, adequate and regular nighttime residence. (M-V Section 725(2)(A)).
What does "fixed, regular and adequate" mean?
For more information about "fixed, regular and adequate" see Determining Eligibility for Rights and Services Under the McKinney-Vento Act, a publication of the National Center for Homeless Education.
What is a "doubled-up" living situation?
Oftentimes students live in temporary housing situations with relatives, friends, or other individuals because of a loss of housing or economic hardship. Unaccompanied youth (students who are not in the physical custody of a parent or legal guardian) more often than not find themselves living in doubled-up situations. These students should be designated as homeless under the McKinney-Vento Act.
If a student is placed in what the Department of Social Services (DSS) considers "permanent" housing, can the student still qualify for protection under the McKinney-Vento Act?
It depends on the nature of the housing arrangement, i.e. whether it is fixed, adequate and regular. DSS has a more narrow definition of homelessness than does the McKinney-Vento Act. For example, families in doubled up situations are often not considered homeless for DSS purposes, but should be designated as homeless under the McKinney-Vento Act. A family may therefore live in a housing situation arranged by DSS that is not "fixed, adequate, or regular" even though DSS considers it a permanent placement.
Are children in foster care covered under the McKinney-Vento Act?
Under state law, a child in foster care is not considered homeless. However, under both state and federal law, children who are "awaiting foster care placement" are considered homeless. (M-V Section 725(2)(B)(i); N.Y. Educ. Law § 3209(a)(3); 8 N.Y.C.R.R. § 100.2(x)(1)(i)(a)(4)). The term "awaiting foster care placement" is not defined under state law. School districts have discretion in determining whether the student has been placed or is awaiting placement in foster care.
Are preschoolers eligible for protections under the McKinney-Vento Act?
Preschoolers are covered under the McKinney-Vento Act insofar as permanently housed students are entitled to a public preschool education. (M-V Section 722(g)(6)(A)(iii)). For example, if the district offers pre-k services, then these services must be made available to students in temporary housing. In NYC, children MUST be placed in pre-kindergarten classes if these services are available to permanently housed students in the school district. If there are no pre-kindergarten classes in the district, every effort should be made to find an appropriate placement for the children whose parents request pre-kindergarten classes. (NYC Chancellor's Regulations A-780(II)).
Are migrant students covered under the McKinney-Vento Act?
Many migrant children and youth, because of their family's transient lifestyle, are likely to fit the definition of homeless under the McKinney-Vento Act. Migrant students who meet the definition of homelessness should be designated as such, and share the same rights afforded to other students experiencing homelessness under the Act. (M-V Section 725(2); N.Y. Educ. Law § 3209(a)(2)).
Is transitional housing covered under the McKinney-Vento Act?
Yes. The McKinney-Vento Act specifically applies to children and youth living in "transitional shelters," including transitional housing programs and transitional living programs. (M-V Section 725(2)(B)(i)); Bullock v. Board of Education of Montgomery County, Civ. A.DKC 2002-0798 (D. Md.)).
Should a school district contact a student's landlord to verify the student's living situation?
No. If the district does not believe the student to be homeless, they may conduct an investigation after having immediately enrolled the student in school. However, in conducting these investigations, districts must be careful not to disclose any personally identifiable information about the student/family unless they have permission from the parent. Sharing personal information from a student's education record not only violates the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), but could jeopardize the family's living situation. For more information about FERPA, please visit the U.S. Department of Education's website or see the Forum Guide to The Privacy of Student Information: A Resource for Schools by the National Forum on Education Statistics.
Is a student covered under the McKinney-Vento Act if her family left their home voluntarily and was not evicted by authorities?
Yes. All students who are in temporary housing because of economic hardship should be considered homeless under the McKinney-Vento Act, even if they voluntarily left their last residence.
Is there an age range to qualify for the protections of the McKinney-Vento Act?
The McKinney-Vento Act covers all school-age children, which in New York State includes all children until they receive their high school diploma, or through the school year in which they turn 21 years old, whichever comes first. (N.Y. Educ. Law § 3202; Chancellor's Regulation A-240); ("School Executive's Bulletin," Office of Elementary, Middle and Secondary Education, New York State Education Department, June 1989).
What are the educational rights and protections of students experiencing homelessness?
Students who are homeless have the right to:
- Go to school, no matter where they live or how long they've lived there (M-V Section 721(1)).
- Choose between the local school where they are living, the school they attended before they lost their housing, or the school where they were last enrolled (M-V Section 722(g)(3)(A); N.Y. Educ. Law § 3209(2)(a); 8 N.Y.C.R.R. § 100.2(x)(2)).
- Enroll and participate in school without proof of residency, immunizations, school records, or other documents normally needed for enrollment (M-V Section 722(g)(3)(C); N.Y. Educ. Law § 3209(2-a); 8 N.Y.C.R.R. § 100.2(x)(4)).
- Receive free transportation to school and to school programs (M-V Sections 722(g)(1)(J)(iii), 722(g)(4)(A), 722(g)(6)(A)(vii); N.Y. Educ. Law § 3209(4); 8 N.Y.C.R.R. § 100.2(x)(6)).
- Receive the same special programs and services, if needed, provided to all other students served in these programs (M-V Sections 722(G)(1)(A) & (F), 722(g)(4); N.Y. Educ. Law § 3209(2-a); 8 N.Y.C.R.R. § 100.2(x)(4)(iii)).
- Enroll and attend class in the school of their choice, even while the family or youth and school district resolve disagreements about enrollment (M-V Section 722(g)(3)(E); N.Y. Educ. Law § 3209(2-a); 8 N.Y.C.R.R. § 100.2(x)(7)(ii)).
Do students who have dropped out of school or earned a GED have the right to return to school?
If a student has dropped out of school or earned a GED, the student can re-enroll in school to earn a high school diploma through the year during which she turns 21 years old. (N.Y. Educ. Law § 3202(1)).
Is there a limit on the amount of time a person can be considered homeless?
No. A youth can be designated as homeless for an unspecified amount of time. Given the limited availability of affordable housing across the state, it is not unusual for a temporarily housed student to be designated as homeless for multiple academic years.
What happens if families who are temporarily housed do not identify as or consider themselves homeless?
Families and youth who are homeless oftentimes do not identify themselves as such for a variety of reasons. Most families and youth are unaware of the McKinney-Vento Act, and school districts must therefore work to ensure that these individuals are informed about the Act, who it covers, and what it provides. Those who are aware of the Act often do not self-identify because of the stigma attached to being homeless. Families and youth in temporary living situations do not necessarily have to self-identify as homeless in order to be designated as such.
Must a student be poor to be covered under McKinney-Vento? Are there income eligibility requirements under McKinney-Vento?
No. There are no income eligibility requirements under the McKinney-Vento Act. All students who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence are considered homeless under the Act.