By Kristen Sherman, Esq. Adler Pollack & Sheehan and Rebecca Carey, Roger Williams Law Student

In 1986, Congress passed the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (the “McKinney Act”), which was designed to ensure that homeless children receive equal access to public education and that state policies do not act as barriers to the enrollment, attendance and success of homeless children in schools. In addition, the McKinney Act prohibits schools from segregating homeless children in a separate program or a separate school based on a child’s status as homeless. To implement these goals, Congress directed the states to prepare and adopt a plan for the education of its homeless children and youth and provides federal funding to the states for.

In implementing the McKinney Act, the Rhode Island Department of Education (“RIDE”) adopted the Rhode Island McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Regulations. The RIDE regulations protect “homeless children and youths,” but the definition includes more than just children who are living in “cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations, or similar settings.” The RIDE regulations also protect children who are: (1) sharing housing with others as a result of their loss of housing, economic hardship or a similar reason; (2) living in motels, hotels trailer parks, or camping grounds due to a lack of alternative accommodations; and (3) staying in emergency or transitional shelters. Therefore, a child does not need to be living on the streets to claim the protections.

One of the goals of the RIDE regulations is to prevent a child from having to relocate to a new school if he or she becomes homeless. The RIDE regulations provide that, if a child becomes homeless, the school in which the child was originally enrolled (known as the “school of origin”) must allow the child to stay at that school until permanent housing is found, provided that it is in the child’s best interest to do so.

If a child who is homeless does switch schools, the McKinney Act and the state regulations aim to ensure that the transition is smooth and that the child receives the same type and level of services as he or she did at the school of origin. Among these services is transportation to and from the school of origin. In addition, the regulations provide that a homeless child may not be denied enrollment because he or she cannot immediately produce academic records, medical records, proof of residency or other similar documentation.

The recent flooding has not only forced already homeless people to relocate, but has also created a whole new class of homeless people who lost their homes temporarily or permanently due to flood waters. The impacts of these disasters hit the children and youths of these families the hardest. Not only have they lost their homes, but they may have to reside in temporary homes of other family and friends, at shelters or on the streets. In such cases, education may fall to the bottom of the list of priorities in a child’s life, but yet it may be the only remaining stable environment for the child. The McKinney Act and the RIDE regulations are a tool that families impacted by flooding can use to help their kids stay in their own schools. If such children must attend another school, the law and regulations facilitate the transition process.

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