School and Learning
Rights of Homeless Students

THE MCKINNEY-VENTO Education Assistance Improvement Act of 2001 (McKinney-Vento) is a federal law that requires states to make sure that homeless students have equal access to a free public education. New Jersey has laws to ensure that homeless students have the same rights and access to a free public education as any other student.

When is a student considered homeless?

Students are homeless for the purpose of school enrollment when they lack fixed, regular, and adequate residence. The most common example of when students may be homeless is when they, with or without their family, are temporarily living with friends or family because they do not have their own housing. Other examples of where a student may live include:

  • Temporary housing shelter;
  • Temporarily in a hotel or motel;
  • Transitional housing;
  • Domestic violence or runaway youth shelters;
  • Vehicle (this could include a mobile home);
  • In a tent;
  • Temporary shelter for migrant farm workers on a farm site.

When enrolling a child in school, parents should tell the district board of education about their housing situation. They should also ask for the school district liaison (formerly called homeless liaison).

Note: In this article, the word parent means biological or adoptive parent, legal guardian, foster parent, surrogate parent, and people acting in the place of a parent, such as a relative with whom the child lives or someone who is legally responsible for the child’s welfare.

What is a school district liaison?

All school districts must have a person assigned to help homeless students and their families. Some of the things they must do include:

  • Help with school registration;
  • Make sure the student is enrolled and attending school;
  • Make sure the student is receiving any educational or other services they are entitled to or need;
  • Make sure parents have a chance to participate in their child’s education; and
  • Ensure the student has transportation services.

See Homeless Liaison List (from the New Jersey Department of Education) for a list of school district liaisons.

What school district is responsible for the education of homeless students?

When a student is homeless, the school district where the student’s parents last had a fixed, regular, and adequate residence is called the student’s district of residence. The district of residence is responsible for the education of the homeless student.

Is there a time limit a student can be homeless?

A student will be considered homeless and have the protections of the McKinney-Vento law for as long as they do not have a fixed, regular, and adequate residence.

In some cases if the student has been living in one place for a year or longer, the district of residence (or responsible school district) may change. This should not negatively impact the student and their ability to continue with their schooling and services.

What if the student gets fixed, regular, and adequate housing during the school year?

A student who is no longer homeless because they get fixed, regular, and adequate housing during the school year will be permitted to remain in their school with transportation through the end of the school year.

Where does a homeless student go to school?

The decision where a homeless student attends school is made by the district of residence and must be done so immediately. The student should be permitted to continue to attend their current school (even if they are not living in the same district) unless the parent(s) or student does not agree. In those cases the student may attend the last attended school (if not the same) or school in the school district they are currently living.

Once the school is chosen, the student must be enrolled immediately. If the student does not have the records normally required for enrollment, he or she must still be enrolled.

What happens when a district residence cannot be determined?

If no district of residence can be determined, the district where the child currently resides must immediately enroll the child in the district, or the district he or she last attended.

What happens when the parents and district do not agree?

If parents and the district do not agree that a student is homeless or what school the student should attend, the parent should contact the county superintendent (See County Information Services (from the New Jersey Department of Education)). The county superintendent must immediately make a decision. If the parents do not agree with this decision, they can file an appeal with the Commissioner of Education.

This information last reviewed: 8/22/2016