The U.S. Department of Education (ED) has issued its first round of guidance regarding changes made to the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The guidance, required by ESSA and published by ED in the Federal Register this week, is intended to help school districts implement the changes made by ESSA as well as review policies and procedures that may present barriers to serving homeless children and youth.
The guidance notes a number of key definitions as amended by ESSA, including the definition of homeless children and youth (beginning at the end of 2016 in most States, and at the end of 2017 in Delaware and Nevada, the new definition does not consider children “awaiting foster care placement”). It also notes that State plan requirements have been modified to include:
- A description of procedures which ensure that homeless children and youth are identified and served;
- A demonstration that States and districts have removed barriers to identification;
- An assurance that homeless liaisons will be able to participate in professional development and technical assistance activities; and
- A description of how the State will provide homeless children and youth with counselors to prepare them for college.
The State Coordinator for homeless children and youth will now be required to make more information available on the education of homeless students, conduct monitoring of local educational agencies (LEAs), and provide professional development activities. More requirements have also been added for LEA-level liaisons as well.
ESSA makes some changes in favor of school stability. Under the new law, an LEA must presume that keeping a student in their school of origin is in the child’s best interest unless a parent or guardian requests otherwise, and if it determines that staying in the school of origin is not in the student’s best interest, it must provide a written explanation of the reasons for that decision. Furthermore, a school selected based on a student’s best interest must immediately enroll the student, even if he or she has missed application deadlines.
Under ESSA, information about a student’s living situation must be treated as a “student education record” – and thus subject to the protections of the Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) – and not as directory information.
Overall, the guidance encourages States to help LEAs in ensuring that they are meeting the requirements of the new law (and notes areas where the State is required to offer specific assistance under the new law). ED also suggests a number of activities the State can undertake which may help LEAs implement the changes.
The new law, ED says, provides a “new opportunity for States to review … policies and procedures to address continued barriers to homeless student success, as well as to review and refine policies.”