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Legally Brief: Federal Law Requires Children in Shelter to Continue their Education

The McKinney Vento Act is a Federal law that specifically addresses the educational needs of children who are temporarily homeless. Children in domestic violence program shelters and transitional housing facilities are considered “homeless” under this definition.

To find out more, we interviewed Gina Woodward at the Indiana Department of Education. She is the statewide coordinator that implements the critical federal policy that mandates that states make sure that children determined to be homeless continue to receive their educational opportunities unimpeded.

Q: Gina, you are the Indiana Department of Education’s Homeless Education Specialist: a position that is critical, but most people don’t know about it. Tell us what you do:

As outlined in the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, states are required to have a coordinator for the education of homeless youth. For Indiana, IDOE’s Homeless Education Specialist is responsible for creating and sharing resources for schools and community partners, collecting and reviewing data on homelessness and the impact of homelessness on learning and school success, and providing resources and support to professionals in schools who support homeless youth and children.  The National Center for Homeless Education provides a full review of the position here. Anyone with questions about the education of homeless children and youth in Indiana, or in need of resources, can reach out to me, Gina Woodward, at gwoodward1@doe.in.gov or (317) 232-9189

Q: How can programs help children in shelter or transitional housing facilities continue their education, now that schools are closed due to COVID-19? 

Because every Local Education Agency (LEA) has a unique plan for the continuous learning of students during school closures, the best resource for coordinating services to homeless children and youth is the local McKinney-Vento liaison. Each LEA is required to identify a point of contact for McKinney-Vento eligible students, to ensure their rights to educational support are being met.

Schools across the state are working hard to ensure all students stay connected and continue receiving services during this challenging time. Now, there are specific resources identified to eliminate barriers to education that exist for young people experiencing homelessness, and the local McKinney-Vento liaison is key to connecting available supports and resources to this vulnerable population. Ensuring access to materials, technology, and daily lunch are just a few ways schools are continuing to serve students.

A list of local McKinney-Vento contacts is available here.

Special COVID-19 NOTE: the Department of Education is encouraging kids and their parents to reach back to their home school district when they go into shelter since all learning is now remote anyway. So connecting with the LEA from their home region would be preferable.

Further, most schools have been given approval to use some of their unspent money (lunches, buses, etc) on making remote learning a possibility by providing iPads hotspots, etc. That responsibility remains with the school.

Please reach out to Kerry Hyatt Bennett if you have a specific question or want to learn more about this critical law that protects our children in shelters.

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