Homeless Students with Disabilities
Homeless Students with Disabilities
Emergency Preparedness/Housing and Homelessness/Special Education: This resource provides a brief introduction to the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. This law protects homeless students right to an education. This includes homeless students with disabilities. Students with disabilities may have become homeless due to natural disasters like wildfires that are impacting many parts of the state of California.
This publication provides a brief introduction to the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. This is a federal law. It gives protection and educational rights to homeless children and youth. The State of California has passed a similar state law, too.
Who is a homeless student?
Homeless students are children and youth who do not have fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence. This includes children and youth who live in:
- Shared housing due to financial reasons
- Motels or hotels
- Public or private places not meant for sleeping
- Trailer parks or campgrounds
- Cars, parks, or abandoned buildings
- Shelters, including emergency or transitional shelters
A student can be homeless if they lost their housing due to a natural disaster, like wildfires, floods, or earthquakes.
What are schools’ responsibilities to homeless students?
Public school districts, charter schools, county offices of education, and public preschools must make sure that homeless students have access to the same free, appropriate public education as other students. This includes homeless students with disabilities.
Schools must make sure that homeless students are able to participate fully in school activities. Schools must also remove any barriers to school. Students experiencing homelessness have the right to:
- Immediate enrollment (even if the parent/guardian cannot produce records normally required for school enrollment like birth certificates, proof of residency, immunization records, etc.)
- Free meals
- Academic supports
- Participation in class and the right to participate fully in all school activities
Homeless students must have equal access to all programs, including special education.
Do homeless students have the right to attend their school of origin?
Yes, homeless students have the right to attend their school of origin. A school of origin can be:
- the school the student attended when they had a permanent house, or,
- the last enrolled school,
- a school that the student has a connection to in the last 15 months.
Staying at a school of origin can give the homeless student school stability.
A school must determine whether staying at a school of origin is in the homeless student’s best interest. A school must consider the student’s education, health, safety, and achievement as well as the parent/guardian’s request or the unaccompanied youth’s request. A school can decide that the school of origin is in the homeless student’s best interest. That means, the homeless student can stay in the school of origin. But, the school can decide that the school of origin is not in the homeless student’s best interest. If the school makes this decision, then it must provide the parent/guardian or unaccompanied homeless youth with a written response that explains its reasons and the right to appeal.
Homeless students can stay in their school of origin the entire time they are homeless. If a homeless student gets permanent housing during the school year, they can stay in their school of origin until the end of that school year. If a homeless high school student gets permanent housing during high school, then they can remain at their school of origin through the end of graduation.
Schools must provide the homeless student with transportation to and from their school of origin until the student obtains permanent housing or at the request of the parent/guardian or liaison for an unaccompanied homeless youth.
You can learn more about the McKinney-Vento Act and locate school and county homeless liaisons through the California Department of Education’s Homeless Education webpage: https://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/hs/cy/