Understanding Educational Rights for Homeless and Unstably Housed Students

Students who are homeless have educational rights under the McKinney-Vento Act, an important federal law.


Read our blog with resources and info from our September 3rd “Helping Homeless Students: Info & Resource Session for Homeless Service Providers”, with resources from Building Changes, TeamChild, and the Equity in Education Coalition.

If you think a student might be eligible for support under the McKinney-Vento Act, speak with your district liaison! Click here for a list of King County McKinney Vento Liaisons by school district.


SURVEY: What Educational Resources are needed for homeless or unstably housed students and families?

We invite family service providers and children’s advocates to share their concerns related to remote learning, and what supports those you serve need to learn remotely. We ask that your responses are specific to supporting families.


Many children and families who are eligible for help do not consider themselves homeless.

When are students considered homeless?

The McKinney-Vento Act protects the educational rights of homeless children and youth. The definition of homelessness under the Act includes, but is not limited to, children or youth in these circumstances or settings:

  • Children or youth in shelters or transitional housing.
  • Children or youth living in parks, public spaces, vehicles, abandoned buildings, or other places not meant for people to live.
  • Children or youth sharing housing (doubled up or couch-surfing) due to loss of housing or economic hardship.
  • Children or youth living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camp grounds due to lack of alternative accommodations.
  • Unaccompanied children or youth (i.e. not in the physical custody of their parents or guardians).

Homeless students’ rights include:

  • To remain enrolled in, and be transported to a student’s School of Origin when feasible, even if a student moves across or outside the district. (‘School of Origin’ means the school last attended when permanently housed, or the school in which the child or youth was last enrolled.)
  • To be enrolled immediately (even without medical or school records) in the neighborhood school.
  • To receive FREE breakfast and lunch in schools that serve both.
  • To have barriers addressed so that they can participate in athletics, field trips, and afterschool activities (this could include having certain school fees waived). Parents or guardians should contact school staff for help.
  • To get help with basic school supplies, including uniforms, shoes, textbooks, and notebooks. If a student’s family cannot afford required supplies, parents or guardians should contact school staff for help.
  • To ask for more academic support if a student is struggling with classwork. Parents or guardians should contact school staff for assistance.
  • To use the school district’s Dispute Resolution Process to appeal a school’s decision when there is a disagreement about school selection or enrollment (attending class and participating fully in school activities).

Resources

Education in the Wake of COVID Resource Guide: This 12-page resource created by TeamChild provides advocates and parents with tools to address tech access, grading, truancy, and much more. 

Learning Assistance Program (LAP): LAP offers supplemental services for K–12 students scoring below grade-level standard in English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics.

Supporting School Mental Health in the Context of Racial Violence: This is a two-part learning series intended for students, families, educators and school mental health professionals who are navigating the impact of racial violence on student mental health.

Homeless Youth and Education during COVID-19: The National Homelessness Law Center shares a webinar on access to education for homeless youth during the pandemic.

Education Law Center Checklist for Equity in Education during COVID-19: The Education Law Center shares a checklist regarding equity in education during COVID-19.

The Education for Homeless Children and Youth program is part of the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). Staff provide trainings for Homeless Education Liaisons and help resolve problems that cannot be resolved within the district. You can also review their Resources page.
(360) 725-6505
HomelessEd@k12.wa.us

The National Center for Homeless Education (NCHE) operates the Homeless Education Helpline for parents, shelter staff, and school personnel who need help and information about enrollment, transportation, and access to appropriate educational opportunities. Assistance is available in English and Spanish. Ayuda está disponible en inglés y español.
1-800-308-2145 (ext. 3)
homeless@serve.org

Washington State Governor’s Office of the Education Ombuds (OEO) is a free, confidential resource for students and families. Staff can help resolve complaints, disputes, and problems between families and public schools or districts in matters that affect student learning. Interpretation available. Interpretación disponible.
Toll-free: (866) 297-2597
OEOinfo@gov.wa.gov

Schoolhouse Washington, a project of Building Changes, improves housing stability and academic outcomes for the more than 40,000 students in our state who experience homelessness. Find student homelessness data, policy analysis, promising practices, and a “Know Your Rights” toolkit for students experiencing homelessness.