Helping children who are homeless: checklist for school officials

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Massachusetts Advocates for Children

This 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 rights is the McKinney-Vento law. 

NoteIn this checklist "DESE" refers to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

How can I identify if a child is homeless?

A child is considered homeless if they:

  • live in emergency shelters,
  • stay with friends or family members,
  • live in transitional shelters,
  • stay in motels, hotels, trailer parks or campgrounds, or
  • live in public or private places that are not normally used as residences.

You can identify homeless children in your area 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 the McKinney-Vento law.
  • Making informational materials available locations accessible to homeless children and their families. Some information 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.
What if a 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 McKinney-Vento law, 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. The school is responsible under the McKinney-Vento law to obtain the records.

If the parent does not want people to know their whereabouts

Use an intermediary to transfer records. An intermediary is a person who can get the records you need on your behalf.

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

Possible intermediaries include:

The parent might not want the intermediary to be someone who lives in the town where they have relocated to, so as to protect the family's new location.

Next, 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 or the parent are worried about someone finding out their location, you could have the records sent to a legal services agency or other service organization and pick them up there. Or have them email or fax a copy to you to give to the school.


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 their safety protected.

Who is responsible for transportation?

If you are the school of origin, it is your district’s responsibility to provide transportation to your 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.

How can I make sure that the child’s transportation is safe?

You can:

  • Re-route an existing bus route.
  • Have the bus driver add a new stop
  • Have the bus driver make sure the child who is in hiding is the first on and 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 the child or parents for gas and mileage if they drive to the school.

If none of these options work, a great way to identify transportation options that are best for the family would be to sit down with the parents.

What if the parent doesn’t agree with the school's decisions?

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

The school must:

  • Provide notice to the Homeless Liaison that includes an explanation of what is challenged and a notice of the right to appeal the challenge.
  • Provide corresponding DESE forms attached to the notice.

The Homeless Liaison must:

  • Provide a copy to the parent within the same day, stating their right to appeal.
  • Ensure the parent's rights are clear and easy to understand.
  • Make sure that if the parents do not read English that the rights must be written or translated into the language they can read.
  • Provide information about, and contact information for the Massachusetts Education of Homeless Children and Youth Program
  • Notify DESE and provide them with copies of the notices.

What happens next:

  • The school then has 2 working days to come to a final decision about the challenge.
  • At the end of the 2 days, the superintendent must put the final decision in writing. They must include all reasons (factual and legal) for the decision.
  • The decision must be given to the liaison within the same day. The liaison will then provide a copy to the parent on the same day they receive it.
Resource Boxes
Más recursos
School - Homelessness

Education of Homeless Children and Youth Program
State Coordinator Shirley Fan-Chan
(781) 338-6310

Call your school and ask for your local Homeless Education Liaison. Or, search online. Under the “Function” dropdown list, choose “Homeless Liaison.”

The Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice 
(617) 482-8686

The Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless
(781) 595-7570

Children's Law Center of Massachusetts
(781) 581-1977

Massachusetts Advocates for Children
Helpline: (617) 357-8431 ext. 3224 
Multilingual Voicemail: Español, Português, Kreyòl ayisyen, Tiếng Việt, 中文


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