Schools can provide stability, normalcy, and support for children and youth who are displaced by disasters. Below are five key policies for schools and tips for their implementation.
1. Most Children and Youth Who are Displaced by Disasters Are Likely to be Eligible for Educational Protections and Services Under the McKinney-Vento Act.
Tip: While all determinations of eligibility under the McKinney-Vento act are individualized and should be made on a case-by-case basis, families and unaccompanied youth who are staying with others temporarily because they cannot return to their homes due to disasters generally would be eligible for McKinney-Vento services in school. There is no maximum duration of homelessness; unfortunately, families may experience homelessness for long periods of time. It’s important to reach out to families at the beginning of the school year to re-determine eligibility.
2. Immediate School Enrollment
Tip: In cases of widespread disasters, it may not be possible to obtain records from previous schools. In these cases, school personnel should enroll students experiencing homelessness immediately, as required by the McKinney-Vento act, and speak with parents and youth directly to help determine appropriate class placement, including any special education services that may be part of the student’s Individualized Education Plan under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
3. School Stability and Transportation
Tip: Several additional factors come into play when deciding between remaining in the school of origin or enrolling in a new school during times when school buildings are closed due to natural disasters. For example, if the school of origin’s building is closed, students can continue to participate in virtual learning at that school regardless of the distance between their temporary housing and the school. At the same time, if the local school building is open, parents or unaccompanied youth may prefer to enroll there for the direct access to school staff, academic support, and services. Helping parents and youth make careful decisions about where to attend school also can help enhance students’ feeling of safety after a disaster and reduce disputes.
4. Support from Title I Part A
Tip: After a disaster, LEAs should review the Title I, Part A set-aside, in collaboration with the McKinney-Vento liaison, to ensure it is adequate to serve the increased numbers and needs of homeless students.
5. School Meals
Tip: Inform families and youth that they are eligible for free school meals. Provide the local school food service office with the names of children and youth who are homeless, so that meals can be provided immediately.