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What is McKinney-Vento and why do I need to know about it if I’m still in school?

The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act applies to public and charter schools (private schools are excluded) and gives you protected rights as a student facing housing issues. Some of your rights include:

  • Helping you to continue attending the school you were attending when you first experienced issues and providing you with transportation if you live far away.
  • If it’s in your best interest, allowing you to switch to a school that’s closer to where you’re currently staying.
  • Enrolling in school, even if you don’t have all the required documents.
  • Receiving necessary special education services.
  • Being able to continue school even if the school questions your housing situation.

Once you let the school know about your housing issues, your protections under the McKinney-Vento Act remain in effect for the rest of the school year, even if your housing situation is resolved.

Are my rights under the McKinney-Vento Act the same at a private school?

No. The McKinney-Vento Act does not apply at a private school. Private schools do not have to allow you to enroll or continue going to the school if you become homeless.

If I’m going to a charter school, do I have the same rights under the McKinney-Vento Act?

Yes. Charter schools are required to follow the same guidelines as public schools, and therefore must give you the same rights and protections under the McKinney-Vento Act. Some charter schools may have requirements for entrance (such as an audition at a performing arts school) If there are particular skills-related entrance requirements that must be met (e.g., fine or performing arts charter schools that require demonstrated artistic ability), you must still meet those criteria. Enrollment deadlines, however, must be waived for you.

Is there somebody at my school who I can talk to about my housing situation?

Yes. Each school district and charter school in Ohio must have someone to assist students and families experiencing housing instability and homelessness. This person is sometimes referred to as a McKinney-Vento Liaison. You can find out who your school’s liaison is and how they can assist you by contacting your local school district or clicking here for a list county list of school districts with the liaison’s information. If it’s difficult to figure out who your school’s liaison is, you can always call the Ohio Department of Education’s Office of the Coordinator for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth at 614.466.4161.

How can a McKinney-Vento Liaison actually help me?

There are some specific things that a McKinney-Vento Liaison can help you with. Those things include:

  • Help with getting you enrolled in school
  • Referring you to community programs/services (child care, housing, healthcare, food stamps, etc)
  • Working with programs/providers in the community to coordinate services
  • Letting you and your caregivers know about educational opportunities, including available transportation options
  • Ensuring that you have free school meals

Depending on availability within the school, liaisons may be able to provide additional supports, like giving access to showers, using onsite laundry machines, help with getting uniforms/clothing, school supplies, tutoring and even connecting you with a supportive adult mentor. You should ask the liaison to what extent they can assist you with your specific needs.

What can I do if I am suspended or removed from school and I didn’t break any rules?

When you are suspended or removed from school, you should get a form that says what the school says happened, how long your suspension/removal is, how to contact the district ombudsman and the process for appeal. It is your right to contact that ombudsman and file an appeal. It is very important that follow the appeal process so that you can have your voice heard.

Because English is my second language, can my school teach me in the language that I learned first?

No. Schools are obligated to teach in the English language. If the English language is a challenge, the school has a duty to provide you with supports to ensure that you are able to learn at the same pace as you peers. These supports can include in-school programs to assist your understanding of the English language. No matter what the supports are, they cannot have a negative impact on your ability to participate in your other classes.

Note: Your caregivers may be able to receive information in their primary language.

Can my not going to school really affect my ability to stay with my family?

Yes. If your school has worked with you and your family to address concerns that have contributed to your absences, the school district may go to the juvenile courts for other possible interventions. For this reason, you will want to ensure that you understand what is expected of you when your school is discussing all available options, be upfront about your ability to participate and any barriers that you think may come up.

I’m a minor; can I sign-up for school without my parent or a legal guardian?

Yes. You will want to ask for the schools McKinney-Vento Liaison when you arrive at the school. The McKinney-Vento Act allows minors who are experiencing homelessness and not in the physical custody of their parent or guardian the right to enroll in school and says that a school cannot delay your enrollment based on your parent or guardian not being there.

Because I’m 18, can I be forced to get a GED?

No, you do not have to switch to a GED program after you turn 18. You can continue to attend high school and pursue your high school diploma until age 21. If you receive special education services, federal law provides the right to access services until the age of 22. If you are older than 22 and would still like to obtain your high school diploma, the Ohio Department of Education offers a program that allows you to do so. You can find out more here.

Schools should not push you into a GED program if you would rather graduate from high school.

I think I need extra help in school; how do I apply for Special Education Services?

The first step is having a parent/guardian, caregiver or teacher make a request for evaluation in writing. You will then be evaluated to determine if you qualify and if so, what type of supports would be necessary. If you are eligible for Special Education Services, you do gain additional rights and protections under the federal IDEA Act of 2004, which was passed to ensure that persons with unique learning needs have an education experience unique to them.

I want to go to college; what is my next step?

You definitely want to reach out to the financial aid office of the schools that you are interested in going to. Also, talk with your high school counselor and ask for information about the application process. You also want to start filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in October. If you are homeless or experiencing housing instability, your school’s McKinney-Vento Liaison can verify your independent status.

Can I get financial aid as an unaccompanied homeless youth?

Yes. One of the requirements of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is that you provide your parent(s)’ financial information. If do not have access to such information, or such information does not exist, the College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007 provides that you do not need it when filing out the FAFSA. If you qualify as an “independent student,” you will not need to provide any parental financial information on your FAFSA application. To qualify as an independent student, you have the identification that you are an unaccompanied and homeless youth, or you must be unaccompanied and at risk of homelessness. You also must be supporting yourself during the school year in which you apply for financial aid.

If I don’t have a mailing address for my FAFSA, which one should I use?

You will want to choose an address that you know you can access and it will not change. If you have a trusted family member, friend or another adult, you can also try reaching out to them and asking if you can use their address as your mailing address. Keep in mind that if you choose to do this, you will want to be absolutely certain that person is going to hold your mail for you, give it you and remain at that address.

What if I live in a shelter or transitional housing?

A homeless liaison, HUD shelter director or designee, RHYA program director or designee, or college financial aid administrator must make the determination that you are an independent (or unaccompanied?) student. Once one of these experts make the determination, you will be considered an independent student. Living in a shelter or transitional housing is certainly something that you will want to bring up with the person you find to make a determination so that person has a better understanding of the true nature of your situation. If you do not have independent student status, contact your high school counselor or the homeless liaison or the National Center for Homeless Education at (800) 308-2145. You will need this determination to complete the FAFSA.

What if I’m living with a family member or friend who is supporting me?

The federal government suggests that if your school will not verify your homeless status, you may contact a financial aid office to ask for an independent status determination. You may need documentation, such as a letter from friends or family, or some other person who can speak about the true nature of your situation. If you are unable to obtain such a document, you should contact the financial aid administrators at the colleges you wish to attend and set up an interview to establish your status.