Answer: 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.

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