Q&A From the Field

McKinney-Vento (Identification)

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Here is the exact legal language on identification at the LEA level:

“Each local educational agency liaison for homeless children and youths, designated under paragraph (1)(J)(ii), shall ensure that–

(i) homeless children and youths are identified by school personnel through outreach and coordination activities with other entities and agencies;”

42 USC §11432(g)(6)(A)(i).

In addition legally, you must provide support to school staff to ensure they do identification and referrals appropriately:

“Each local educational agency liaison for homeless children and youths, designated under paragraph (1)(J)(ii), shall ensure that—…

(ix) school personnel providing services under this subtitle receive professional development and other support”

42 USC §11432(g)(6)(A)(x).

Legally, the liaison has both the authority and the responsibility to identify McKinney-Vento students and ensure their immediate enrollment, access to school of origin, and other rights/services. Other school staff can make those determinations only to the extent you have delegated that authority to them. And legally, your district is responsible for ensuring the identification of homeless students.

Unless the liaison has specific information indicating the overcrowding rises to the level of child abuse or neglect, the liaison should take no action.  This is very important under federal law, for several reasons.

First, information about a McKinney-Vento student’s living situation, including the student’s address or who lives in the home, is a protected part of the student’s educational record and cannot be released without specific parental consent. Contacting a landlord, law enforcement, or anyone about occupancy or overcrowding violates both the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the McKinney-Vento Act.

Second, reporting overcrowding would be a severe barrier to identifying students experiencing homelessness. The McKinney-Vento Act requires both state and local educational agencies to: “review and revise, policies to remove barriers to the identification of homeless children and youths, and the enrollment and retention of homeless children and youths in schools.” 42 USC 11432(g)(1)(I).

If a family fears a referral to child protective services or law enforcement due to overcrowding, that family certainly will never share their living situation with the school. That will put an absolute barrier before the school’s efforts to identify students who are sharing the housing of others.  That would violate the McKinney-Vento Act.

The school cannot report or act on occupancy rates that are out of compliance with a lease or housing codes in any way, or it will be violating federal education laws.  If overcrowding creates a verified danger that school staff observe (such as someone in the home abusing the child), then a report to child protective services would be warranted.  However, the school staff’s observations have to be specific enough to justify the report, to avoid a potential federal lawsuit based on the McKinney-Vento Act.

Enrollment staff certainly can identify and verify McKinney-Vento eligibility, as long as the liaison has the opportunity to provide them with adequate training to do so.  The law is pretty clear about this, requiring liaisons to ensure that “homeless children and youths are identified by school personnel” (42 USC 11432(g)(6)(A)(i)). It’s a common practice for enrollment staff to do identification, especially in larger school districts where it would be practically impossible for a liaison to be doing all of the identification and verification alone.  This is part of the reason ESSA’s McKinney-Vento amendments included a requirement that liaisons ensure “school personnel providing services under this subtitle receive professional development and other support.”  42 USC 11432(g)(6)(A)(ix)).  When they have doubts or questions, enrollment staff should refer those immediately to the liaison.  The liaison has the final word on eligibility.

We have published Guidelines for Designating LEA-Level and Building-Level McKinney-Vento Liaisons that may be helpful. The district level liaison is the ultimate authority on LEA determinations of homelessness and other decisions (disputable by the parent/youth). Building-level contacts can be instrumental in identification and ensuring full implementation of the McKinney-Vento Act and supports to students. However, the identification problems and undue hardships indicate that those LEAs need to provide better training to their building liaisons, so their determinations are correct. There may need to be a clearer protocol of how determinations are made, and a clear understanding that gray areas will be reviewed with the liaison prior to sharing the determination with the family or youth—but without delaying enrollment or services. If the current process and lack of training are creating barriers to enrollment and retention of students, that is a violation of the McKinney-Vento Act. It’s also important to note that ESSA now specifically requires liaisons to ensure that “school personnel providing services under this subtitle receive professional development and other support.”  42 USC §11432(g)(6)(A)(ix). So if the building liaisons are not adequately trained to make eligibility determinations, the liaison needs to train them better.

It’s also important for parents and students to know who the district liaison is and how to reach him or her, since the liaison is ultimately responsible for LEA implementation. ESSA requires: “State coordinators… and local educational agencies shall inform school personnel, service providers, advocates working with homeless families, parents and guardians of homeless children and youths, and homeless children and youths of the duties of the local educational agency liaisons, and publish an annually updated list of the liaisons on the State educational agency’s website.”  42 USC §11432(g)(6)(B).

Your process seems appropriate and more likely to avoid dropping students from the program who actually are still experiencing homelessness. Reaching out with phone calls, emails, questionnaires, and reminders to families to update you on their living situation is as efficient as possible and unlikely to drop eligible students from your data or from services. Coordinating with the transportation department helps, too. As they find out that children have moved, they can give you a heads up so you know to check on whether the move was to permanent housing.

If you were to remove all the students and have them re-apply, it’s likely many would fall through the cracks. (Although a lot depends on what is involved in “re-applying”– If there is a system in place to reach out to the students and ensure those who remain homeless are not dropped from the program, that can work.)

Lastly, it’s a good idea to check with your State Coordinator. Based on the timing, clearing the database at the end of the school year could result in incorrect data reporting to the state, which would make that process a real problem.

LEAs must conduct outreach to identify and report data on all children and youth experiencing homelessness, including young children. Some strategies recommended by the U.S. Department of Education include collaborating with:

  • Shelters;
  • Health centers and social service agencies, such as agencies that administer the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and other public benefits;
  • Early childhood education providers, such as Head Start and Early Head Start programs; public or private preschool programs, which can be school or community based; public or private child care programs; family child care homes and home-based early childhood programs; and early childhood health and development providers, such as HHS/HRSA-funded Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV);
  • School personnel; and
  • Early intervention and special education programs (IDEA, Parts B and C). USED Guidance, March 2017, N-1.

Other partners that can help find families with young children experiencing homelessness include housing and homeless assistance programs, motels, domestic violence shelters and advocates, substance abuse programs, faith-based providers like Family Promise, and sources of food like soup kitchens and food pantries.

The McKinney-Vento Act requires liaisons to ensure that “public notice of the educational rights of homeless children and youths is disseminated in locations frequented by parents or guardians of such children and youths, and unaccompanied youths, including schools, shelters, public libraries, and soup kitchens, in a manner and form understandable to the parents and guardians of homeless children and youths, and unaccompanied youths.” 42 USC 11432(g)(6)(a)(vi). Strategies to notify families include:

  • Widely disseminating posters and brochures throughout schools and the community;
  • Using an enrollment form that asks about current housing;
  • Providing McKinney-Vento information in enrollment packets;
  • Frequently posting information on school and district websites and school social media;
  • Sharing information through community partners, such as early childhood programs, teen and youth adult parenting programs, faith-based groups, health clinics, social service agencies, homeless service providers, food banks, and LGBTQ youth groups.

SchoolHouse Connection has template Power Points and other training tools on its website, which include slides and information on identification. They can be found at https://schoolhouseconnection.org/learn/k-12/. The National Center for Homeless Education offers webinars and self-paced trainings on its website, https://nche.ed.gov/web/online_tr.php. Videos designed for particular school staff, including registrars and school counselors, are available at vimeo.com/pjulianelle. The video for registrars features registrars demonstrating how they talk to families about potential McKinney-Vento eligibility.

“Yes, a housing questionnaire is a better name, and I am glad that you are eliminating the barrier of the affidavit! The law does not mention affidavits in particular, but it does require that enrollment be immediate, even if the child or youth is unable to produce proof of residency or other documentation. 42 U.S.C. §11432(g)(3)(C). McKinney-Vento families do not have to provide proof of residency, so a school district requirement that they do so, or sign affidavits, or have a document notarized, violates the law. In addition, the law requires: “”(I) A demonstration that the State educational agency and local educational agencies in the State have developed, and shall review and revise, policies to remove barriers to the identification of homeless children and youths, and the enrollment and retention of homeless children and youths in schools in the State, including barriers to enrollment and retention due to outstanding fees or fines, or absences.”” Requiring a notarized affidavit is both a barrier to identification (some parents might not want to reveal their situation if they can’t access a notary or are just intimidated by the word affidavit) and a barrier to immediate enrollment (what if the notary is out sick, or for parents who are not at the enrollment center).”

In general, these end-of-year efforts should strive to ensure the integrity of McKinney-Vento eligibility between academic years, but also take into consideration the known mobility and communication difficulties faced by parents and students experiencing homelessness. To that end, we’d suggest that the information:

  1. Request parents to inform you if they have permanent housing at the start of the school year, rather than asking if they are still in transition. Approaching continued eligibility that way errs on the side of including children and youth as eligible at the beginning of the year, and acknowledges the lapses in communication that are inherent with homeless families.
  2. Be sent to parents via text, or communicated in a way other than a traditional letter “home”, that it is more likely to reach them. We realize that calling all parents is not always feasible, but it may be the best way to get the information to them.