The McKinney-Vento Act, a federal law, gives students who don’t have permanent housing help in enrolling and attending school. The law states schools must ensure that all students, including homeless ones, have the same chance to receive a free and appropriate public education. Schools cannot discriminate against homeless youth nor tell other students they do not have permanent places to live.
Under the federal law, a homeless youth is any youth who is the age to attend public school and who does not have a fixed, regular, or satisfactory place to live. It does not matter whether the child is living with a parent or not. The youth does not have to be living in a shelter and could even be staying at a friend’s house or in a hotel room. Any child without a permanent place to live is considered homeless under the McKinney-Vento Act.
Every school district in South Carolina must have someone to advise homeless students about their options, assist with enrollment and help obtain school records. Sometimes this person is called a “Homeless Liaison” or “McKinney Liaison.” The school office will know how to reach this staff person. Any youth without a permanent home should reach out to the liaison. The liaison can help the student with several things.
Students without permanent places to live have the right to:
- Enroll in school without a parent or guardian.
- Enroll in school without delay.
- Enroll in school even if s/he lacks a birth certificate, school records and immunization documents. A liaison can help obtain these records later.
- Stay in the same school even if the student now lives in a different school district. In some situations, students may also be provided transportation back to their original school. The school district(s) must work together to figure out the transportation options. Liaisons can also help families and students on this issue.
- Receive free breakfasts and lunches at school.
To help enforce all these rights the student will need to work with the homeless liaison. This places the school on notice that the youth does not have a permanent place to live and that the notice is required under the law.
If the school says a youth is not homeless and refuses to meet any of the rights the student has, then the student’s parent or the school homeless liaison can appeal the decision to the school district office, the school board or even court if necessary. In the meantime, youth have the right to stay in the school they were in before they ended up without a permanent place to live.
This information was prepared to give you some general information on the law. It is not intended as legal advice about any particular problem. If you have questions about the law you should consult a lawyer. If you do not know a lawyer, you can call the South Carolina Bar Lawyer Referral Service weekdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. The number is 799-7100 in Richland or Lexington Counties, and 1-800-868-2284 from other parts of the state.