On July 24, 2023, the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) released updated guidance to improve educational opportunities for children and youth with disabilities. The guidance was issued in response to findings that many States have not been consistently complying with the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
Students with disabilities are over-represented among students experiencing homelessness: of the 1.1 million students identified as experiencing homelessness in 2020-21, 20% (about 221,000) were children with disabilities, compared to 15% of the overall student population. Infants and toddlers who experience homelessness also have higher rates of developmental delays and disability. (To find out how many children and youth with disabilities were identified as experiencing homelessness in your state, county, school district, or Congressional district, visit our data profiles.)
IDEA includes a number of provisions specific to children and youth experiencing homelessness, including:
- Any state receiving IDEA funds must ensure that the requirements of the McKinney-Vento Act are met for all children with disabilities who are experiencing homelessness in the state. 20 U.S.C. §1412(a)(11)(A)(iii); 34 CFR §300.149(a)(3).
- Any child or youth considered homeless under the McKinney-Vento Act is also considered homeless under IDEA (20 U.S.C.§ 1401(11)).
- Under the child find requirements, States must ensure that children with disabilities who are experiencing homelessness are identified, located and evaluated. 20 U.S.C. §1412(a)(3)(A); 34 CFR §300.111.
- If a student is an unaccompanied youth or a ward of the state, IDEA requires that local educational agencies ensure the student’s rights are protected, including by assigning a surrogate parent. Regulations also allow for temporary surrogate parents for unaccompanied youth, which can include staff of emergency shelters, transitional shelters, independent living programs, and street outreach programs, as well as McKinney-Vento liaisons or other school district staff. 34 CFR §300.519(f); 71 Fed. Reg. 46712.
The updated guidance aims to help States fulfill their general supervision responsibilities under IDEA, which includes the responsibility to ensure that the requirements of the McKinney-Vento Act are met for all children with disabilities who are experiencing homelessness. Specifically, the IDEA guidance stipulates that:
- States should monitor every school district and early intervention program at least once every six years.
- States may not ignore credible allegations about potential IDEA noncompliance, even if those allegations come outside of the regular monitoring visit cycle.
- In cases where a program is not compliant, States must issue such a finding in a timely manner, generally within three months, and they must ensure that the issue is corrected for each individual child.
- States are encouraged to use data to help identify any disparities, and provide monitoring or outreach to ensure proper implementation of IDEA.
Increasing compliance with IDEA ensures that children and youth experiencing homelessness with disabilities have access to the services they need to be successful in school and in life. Collaboration across programs also can support children and youth experiencing homelessness. Liaisons can:
- Train child find and special education staff on homelessness and intersections between IDEA and McKinney-Vento.
- Share data on the number and needs of children experiencing homelessness who also have disabilities.
- Partner with child find staff to identify children experiencing homelessness during child find activities.
- Partner with early childhood and early intervention staff to identify and refer young children (0-6) who are eligible for services.
- Designate district, regional, and/or state-level early intervention homeless navigators, who can ensure young children experiencing homelessness are connected to appropriate services.
- Collaborate with special education staff to ensure that barriers are removed for children and youth to attend and participate fully, as well as for parents and guardians unaccompanied homeless youth.
- Work with early intervention and other early childhood development programs to conduct informal self-assessments in years when programs are not being monitored, to ensure the needs of children with disabilities experiencing homelessness are being met.
- Support caregivers, parents, and guardians to obtain special education records from previous schools.
Using ARP-HCY to Support Children and Youth with Disabilities: Spotsylvania County Public Schools, Virginia
Spotsylvania County Public Schools (SCPS) is combining ARP-HCY funds and special education funds to support the position of a Transition Specialist to meet the need of providing additional support for students with disabilities. The Transition Specialist works with students experiencing homelessness who also have IEPs, reviewing every transcript to ensure that students are on track toward graduation and that services in the IEP align with the classes that students are taking. The Transition Specialist also connects with other school staff for additional supports and services that are not part of the IEP; builds rapport with parents to help find other outside resources to help meet their child’s out-of-school needs; and educates Special Education case managers on McKinney-Vento and the impact that homelessness has on students with disabilities. When ARP-HCY funds are no longer available, this position will be funded by Special Education and local funds.
“It’s not that our social workers can’t do intense case management, but our Specialists have the time so they can expand the capacity of our district to do more. None of this would be possible without ARP-HCY funds.”