I am a service provider…

Who will tirelessly work to remove barriers that may prevent students and their families from getting the services they need and deserve. I will inform and educate those that I serve to fully understand their rights so that they may take an active role in improving their lives. I will encourage partnership with all stakeholders in order to best support our families.

If you provide support to homeless families, children, or youth, who reside or use the services of a transitional, domestic violence, youth, or day shelter, it is important that you identify homeless families and inform them of their educational rights under McKinney-Vento.

  1. What qualifies a student as homeless?
  2. What services are available if my client is considered homeless?
  3. What school can my client attend?
  4. Are unaccompanied youth considered homeless?
  5. Will the school report an unaccompanied youth as a runaway?
  6. What is the difference between the definitions of homelessness used by schools and housing providers?
  7. Who do I contact in the school district?
  8. Does my client have legal rights?
  9. What if my client disagrees about the school selected for their child to attend?
  10. Is the school required to provide transportation to and from school?
  11. My question is not answered here or I do not understand some of the answers?

1. What qualifies a student as homeless?
Federal law (“the McKinney-Vento Act”) defines “homeless children and youth” as individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence. This definition includes children and youth who are living in any of the following places:

  • Shelters or transitional housing;
  • With friends or family, because you or your family have no other place to go;
  • With friends or family, because you have run away, been kicked out of home, or don’t have anywhere else to go;
  • In motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camping grounds because you have no other place to go;
  • In cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, public spaces, or similar places;
  • If you are awaiting foster care placement meaning that you have been initially placed in foster care and are awaiting your 30-day shelter care hearing;
  • If you are a migrant youth who is living in one of the above living situations.

2. What services are available if my client is considered homeless?
McKinney-Vento requires every school district to identify a homeless liaison. The Homeless Liaison is a person who you can work with to help put your client in touch with resources for housing, food, emergency services, and other important stuff like clothes and toiletries

The homeless liaison can help your client stay in school by:

  • Helping your client immediately enroll in school
  • Helping your client stay in the school they attended before becoming homeless
  • Arranging for transportation to and from school
  • Signing your client up for free breakfast and lunch at school
  • Helping your client find emergency resources
  • Waiving lost book fines, class fees, and other activity fees
  • Helping your client find a tutor if you need extra help or if you are falling behind
  • Helping your client participate in school activities

Homeless Liaisons are there to help your client stay in school and provide supports that will hopefully allow your client to also be successful in school.

3. What school should/can my client attend?
McKinney-Vento allows students experiencing homelessness the option of enrolling in the school of origin or the local attendance area school where the student resides.

  • The school of origin – is the school the student attended when they were last permanently housed or the school where the student was last enrolled.
  • The local attendance area school – is any public school that students not experiencing homelessness who live in the attendance area are eligible to attend.

School selection is determined on what is in the best interests of the student. McKinney-Vento recognizes that it is in the best interest to keep a student experiencing homelessness in their school of origin to the extent feasible, unless it is against a parent’s or guardian’s wises. Factors that schools may consider in determining feasibility include age, commute distance, personal safety issues, the student’s need for special instruction, the length of anticipated stay in a temporary shelter, and the time remaining in the school year.

4. Are unaccompanied youth considered homeless?
The McKinney-Vento act defines unaccompanied youth as youth who are not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian. This term includes youth denied housing by their families, youth living in youth shelters, abandoned buildings, cars, on the streets, or in other inadequate housing, as well as students living in programs for teen mothers who have no other housing.

Unaccompanied youth are not categorically considered homeless under McKinney-Vento. They also must meet the definition of homeless to qualify for services under McKinney-Vento. For more information about unaccompanied youth, please visit the I Am a Youth section.

5. Will the school report an unaccompanied youth as a runaway?
At present time, the law is unclear whether a school is required to report a student as a runaway. Under McKinney-Vento, school districts are required to enroll students experiencing homelessness immediately. If an unaccompanied youth is fearful that the school district will report them to law enforcement, this is likely to create a barrier to a homeless student’s retention and enrollment in school, which is a violation of the McKinney-Vento Act. Furthermore, federal law trumps state law, so while it is unclear under state law whether schools could be held liable for enrolling an unaccompanied youth, in these cases McKinney-Vento rules and the schools should immediately enroll the youth into school without reporting the youth as a runaway.

In situations like these, it is important for the liaison, provider, and the student to work closely together to determine how to best serve the student. If there is no indication that the student is in immediate danger, best practice would advise that the homeless liaison enroll the student, provide them with needed services, and work to help the student remain successfully in school. For more information, please visit I Am a Youth.

6. What is the difference between the two definitions of homelessness under McKinney-Vento and how does this effect a homeless student or family’s eligibility?
The main difference between the two definitions is that the Department of Education (DOE) Definition is much broader and less restrictive, than the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) definition. Both definitions arise out of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act which was originally enacted in 1987. The law provides federal money for homeless shelter programs and was the first significant federal response to homelessness. Since its original enactment the law has undergone several revisions.

One of the programs that originated from the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act was the Education for Homeless Children and Youth Program (ECHY). In 2002, this program was reauthorized under No Child Left Behind and the changes made during this reauthorization were enacted as the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act. The goal of this act was to make sure that homeless children and unaccompanied youth have equal access to free appropriate public education, despite the high mobility and instability associated with homelessness. The definition of homeless under the ECHY program is intentionally broad to incorporate as many unstable living situations that can have a significant impact on a child or youth’s ability to learn.

The DOE definition of homeless includes children and youth who are living in emergency or transitional shelters, unsheltered locations such as cars, parks, or abandoned buildings, children and youth who are staying in motels, as well as children who are staying with others (doubled-up). The DOE definition is also broader than other federal definitions of homeless and is recognized by other Federal Programs implemented under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the Higher Education Act, the Head Start Act, the Child Nutrition Act, and the Violence against Woman Act.

In 2009, the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEART) Act of 2009 amended and reauthorized the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. This Act, among other changes, consolidated HUD’s competitive grant programs, but also changed HUD’s definition of homeless. To qualify as homeless under HUD and become eligible for certain programs, HUD’s definition requires that certain time restrictions be met. For example, under HUD families living in doubled-up situations, or motel and hotels, must be able to show that they are about to lose their primary nighttime residence within 14 days. Additionally under the HUD definitions, unaccompanied youth and homeless families with children who are considered homeless under other Federal Definitions must have moved two times or more within the last 60 days and must not have leased or had had an ownership interest, or occupancy agreement in permanent housing during those 60 days. There are additional categories, requirements, and restrictions under the HUD definition, if you are interested in learning more please click here.

The main takeaway is that the HUD definition is not as broad as the DOE definition of homeless, and there is a good possibility that a family that qualifies as homeless under the DOE definition may not qualify as homeless under the HUD definition.

7. Who do I contact in the school district?
Every school district has a McKinney-Vento Liaison who can help you enroll your cleint in school. If you need immediate assistance with a homeless education issue it is best to contact your local liaison (click here for the liaison list). If you live in King, Pierce, or Snohomish County you can click on School Contact Information to find out the best way to receive help in your school district.

If you cannot reach the liaison please contact the State Coordinator, Melinda Dyer, at (360) 725-6050 or melinda.dyer@k12.wa.us.

If you have questions about McKinney-Vento or clarification about how McKinney-Vento works, the National Center for Homeless Education has a helpline that you can call at 1-800-208-2145 or email at homeless@serve.org. The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty also has a program called Project Learn where you can talk to a lawyer who can provide you with technical assistance, please call (202) 638-2535 for more information.

8. Does my client have legal rights under McKinney-Vento?
Yes. Under McKinney-Vento, homeless children and youth have (if in the care of a parent or guardian, the rights are enforceable through the parent):

  • A right to immediate enrollment;
  • The right to attend the school you attended when you or your family were permanently housed (“school of origin”) or the school where you were last enrolled;
  • The right to transportation to and from their school of origin;
  • The right to participate in the same activities as other students;
  • The right to participate in the same programs and other services provided to other students;
  • The right to dispute a decision made by the homeless liaison or school district about what school you can or cannot attend.
  • McKinney-Vento also has a broad mandate that requires school districts to revise policies and practices that create barriers to homeless students enrollment and retention. Enrollment includes attending classes and participating fully in school activities.

9. What if my client disagrees about the school selected for their child to attend?
A school district must provide a parent, guardian, or unaccompanied youth with a written statement of the school placement decision and information regarding the right to appeal. The school district will refer the dispute to the liaison who is required to carry out the dispute resolution process as quickly as possible. While the appeal process is pending, students must be immediately enrolled in school and continue to receive services for which they are eligible until the dispute is resolved.

10. What if my client disagrees about the school selected for their child to attend?
Yes. Schools are required to provide transportation to homeless students to and from their school of origin. If the student is not attending their school of origin, but a local school in their attendance area, schools must provide homeless students with transportation that is comparable to transportation services provided to other students who are not homeless. Districts are allowed to consider other modes of transportation in addition to school buses.

McKinney-Vento also requires schools to eliminate barriers to enrollment and retention. Homeless students often face challenges that other students do not, and in some rare cases schools may have to provide transportation to homeless students, if not providing transportation would pose a barrier to the student’s full participation in classroom and school activities. A common example given to explain this concept, is when a homeless student needs to attend summer school, but the school district does not provide transportation to any students attending summer school. If attending summer school is essential to the student experiencing homelessness academic progress, the district may have to provide transportation to summer school to reduce any barriers to the student’s continued enrollment and retention at school.

Each situation is different and will be decided based on what is in the best interest of the student.

11. My question is not answered here or I do not understand some of the answers?
If you would like to comment, submit, or suggest additional questions that you think should appear on this page please feel free to e-mail info@waseh.org. If you have questions about McKinney-Vento or clarification about how McKinney-Vento works, the National Center for Homeless Education has a helpline that you can call at 1-800-208-2145 or email at homeless@serve.org. If you need immediate assistance with a homeless education issue it is best to contact your local liaison (click here for the liaison list), but if you cannot reach the liaison please contact the State coordinator, Melinda Dyer, at (360) 725-6050 or melinda.dyer@k12.wa.us.

Additional Resources

National Center for Homeless Education Brief – What Service Providers Should Know
Seattle King County Coalition on Homelessness Brochure
National Center on Homeless Education Parent Booklet
Project Learn Factsheet – Project LEARN (Lawyers Education Access Resource Network) is an initiative of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, designed to ensure children who are homeless have a stable school life. Please click here for more information.

The answers on this page were compiled from the following sources: The National Center for Homeless Education, The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, The Department of Education, and The Mckinney-Vento Act.

The information on WASEH.org is provided to help you understand how the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Improvements Act (“McKinney-Vento”) generally works. Use of and access to WASEH.org including, links, e-mail links, or any information provided on WASEH.org is not considered legal advice, which is when you contact a lawyer and the lawyer applies the law to your specific situation. If you want to speak with a lawyer, please click here for information on how to get legal help in Washington or contact the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty at (202) 638-2535.