The U.S. Department of Education recently released guidance to school districts regarding new provisions of the Every Student Succeeds Act (“ESSA” or the “Act”) that address the support of homeless students. The guidance provides a summary of the required protections for homeless children and recommendations for school districts. The Education for Homeless Children and Youth program was originally authorized in 1987 and recently re-authorized as part of ESSA. The new provisions in the Act were prompted in part by growth in the number of homeless children enrolled in U.S. public schools. During the 2013-2014 academic year, there were more than 1.3 million homeless children enrolled. States and school districts must begin implementing these requirements by October 1, 2016.
Examples of important provisions in the new guidance include:
- Homeless children and youth are defined as “individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence;”
- States and school districts have broad and ongoing responsibilities to review policies or practices that “may act as barriers to the identification, enrollment, attendance, and school success of homeless children and youths;”
- Homelessness is not a sufficient reason to segregate students in separate schools;
- The websites for state educational agencies must annually post the number of children and youths identified as homeless in that state; and
- School districts should include the identification of homeless students and their unique educational needs in any district needs assessment and school improvement plans that define a school’s targeted work.