You are here

Want to share what you like about MassLegalHelp with us?


Helping Children Who Are Homeless - A Checklist for School Officials

Produced by Massachusetts legal services' Domestic Violence and School Safety Workgroup
Created March, 2007

The Checklist has information and suggestions about how to help homeless children affected by domestic violence secure their school choice rights safely.

It is for school departments, administrators, and staff.  It can help them work with homeless children's parents to use school choice.  The law that gives kids school choice is the McKinney-Vento law. 

In this Checklist "DESE" refers to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Identify Homeless Children

A child is homeless if he or she

lives in emergency shelters

stays with friends or family members

lives in transitional shelters

stays in motels, hotels, trailer parks or campgrounds

lives in public or private places that are not normally used as residences

Homeless children in your area can be identified by

Contacting shelters and transitional housing in the area to inform them of children's rights and assistance available to them.

Providing shelters with written information about McKinney

Putting posters or other informational aids in locations accessible to homeless children and their families. Some ready made posters can be found at:

Making a list of known addresses of shelters, hotels, campgrounds and trailer parks so that school registrars can recognize addresses that may indicate homelessness.

Know what to do even if the child does not have all required records and paperwork to enroll

Even if a child does not have the proper paperwork and files, under the act children are permitted to enroll and participate in all school activities immediately.

The new school liaison and the old school liaison must work together to transfer the records. It is the school's obligation under the McKinney-Vento act to obtain the records.

If the parent does not want people to know their whereabouts

Use an intermediary to transfer records.

Discuss with parent possible people who could act as an intermediary. Should be someone the parent trusts to get the records without disclosing the new location.

  • Possible intermediaries include family members, social workers, friends, or someone from the DESE Office for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth.
  • Tips for choosing an intermediary:

Ideally not someone who lives in the town where the family has relocated to, so as to protect the family's new location.

Someone the parents trust.

  • The parent will need to provide a release form to authorize them to obtain the child's records.

Is the parent leaving your school? If so, have them sign the release before they leave naming the intermediary.

  • If you cannot think of another place, could have the records sent to a service organization such as a legal services agency and pick them up there or have them fax a copy to you to give to the school.

Remember, children staying in some places like domestic violence shelters may not be able to put their current address on the records for safety reasons. The parent has the right to have his or her safety protected.

Deal with issues of responsibility for providing transportation

If you are the original school district, it is your district’s responsibility to provide transportation to the original school if the child is to remain enrolled there no matter where they reside.

Your school district is also responsible for transportation within the district if the child remains within the district.

If the child needs transportation between two districts the old district and the temporary district must agree on a method for payment. If no agreement is made, then they must both split the costs 50/50.

The child and family are not responsible for any of the transportation costs.

Be sure that the child’s transportation is safe

Re-route an existing bus route

A bus driver could add a new stop or make the child who is in hiding the first on last off so other children do not know where they are staying.

Hire a private bus/van/car for the child's transportation.

Provide money for public transportation i.e. bus/train/subway tokens or passes

Reimburse child or parents for gas and mileage if they drive to the school.

If none of these options works, a great way to identify transportation options will best suit the parent's needs and safety concerns for the child would be to sit down with the parents.

Know your school district’s responsibilities if there is a parent whose child is fits under the McKinney Act, but the parent does not agree with the school's decisions

The school must

provide notice to the liaison that includes an explanation of what is challenged and a notice of the right to appeal the challenge.

provide corresponding DESE forms attached.

The Liaison must:

provide a copy to the parents within the same day of their right to appeal.

provide that the parent's rights are clear and easy to understand.

provide that if the parents do not read English that the rights must be written or translated into the language they can read.

provide information and contact information for Massachusetts Advocates for the Education of Homeless Children and Youths. (Current contact information for MAEHCY can be obtained by calling (800) 308-2145.)

notify DESE and provide them with copies of the notices.

What happens next

The school then has two working days to come to a final decision about the challenge.

At the end of the two days, the superintendent must put the final decision in writing including all reasons (factual and legal) for the decision.

The decision must be given to the liaison in the same day. The liaison will then provide a copy to the parent on the same day they receive it.

Who to call for help

Find Legal Aid

You may be able to get free legal help from your local legal aid program. Or email a question about your own legal problem to a lawyer.

Ask a Law Librarian

If it's
9am - 12pm and 1pm - 4pm