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The Public Justice Center and Megaphone Project collaborated on a film explaining homeless students' rights.

The second part of the film Beyond Debate.

This is a general description of a school's duties and the student's rights when a student is homeless. Each situation is different. A student and her guardian will probably need legal help if the student’s problem enrolling or transferring cannot be resolved.

Who is considered Homeless?

School age children who are homeless (or become homeless) have legal rights under a federal law called "The McKinney-Vento Act." The word homeless does not mean only someone who literally lives on the street. A homeless student includes:

  • an individual who lacks a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence;
  • an individual who has a primary nighttime residence that is:
    • a supervised publicly or privately operated shelter designed to provide temporary living accommodations,
    • an institution that provides a temporary residence for individuals intended to be institutionalized; or
    • a public or private place not designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings;
  • an individual who lives in substandard housing; and
  • an individual who may imminently lose housing and has no subsequent housing identified.

A homeless student includes any child who is living in a motel, in a shelter, with family members or friends, in a car, in a park, or in any other public place because her family has lost their housing or have no housing.

Read the law: 42 U.S.C. § 11302; COMAR 13A.05.09.*

What must schools do?

The Maryland State Department of Education and local school boards are required to help homeless students.

Each local school system must have "policies to eliminate barriers to enrollment, retention and success in school of homeless children." Each school system must have a plan to address:

  • transportation issues;
  • delay in enrollment due to residency rules;
  • lack of documents such as birth certificates, school records, immunization records, or other documentation; and
  • guardianship issues.

Each school system also must have a "homeless education coordinator" who is responsible for helping children who are covered by these rules.

Which school will a child attend?

School systems must consider "the best interest of the child" when they enroll homeless children in a school. Generally, the school system must allow the child to continue attending or enroll in the parent's choice of:

  1. the school of origin for the remainder of the academic year or,
  2. if the student becomes homeless between academic years, the school of origin for the following academic year; or
  3. the school in which non-homeless students (who live in the same area) are eligible to attend. (This refers to the school "attendance" area in which the homeless student is currently living.)

A school cannot delay enrollment because the student is unable to produce school, medical, or residency records. And the school must help obtain the student’s records from a previous school.

Transportation to school

The school also must provide the student with transportation from wherever she is living to the school.

Read the law: COMAR 13A.05.09.06

Filing a grievance

Each school system must have a grievance procedure to resolve problems within five days. A parent can appeal to the superintendent of the school system, to the local school board, and to the State School Board. Until the grievance is resolved the student must be allowed to attend either:

  • the school she was in before or,
  • the school nearest the place she lives.

Read the law on the dispute resolution procedure:  COMAR 13A.05.09.07

FAQ’s and contact information for each county’s Homeless Education Coordinator:

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Is this legal advice?

This site offers legal information, not legal advice.  We make every effort to ensure the accuracy of the information and to clearly explain your options.  However we do not provide legal advice - the application of the law to your individual circumstances. For legal advice, you should consult an attorney.  The Maryland State Law Library, a court-related agency of the Maryland Judiciary, sponsors this site.  In the absence of file-specific attribution or copyright, the Maryland State Law Library may hold the copyright to parts of this website. You are free to copy the information for your own use or for other non-commercial purposes with the following language “Source: Maryland's People’s Law Library – © Maryland State Law Library, 2017.”

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