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Education Rights of Children Displaced by Disasters

If your child attends public pre-K-12 schools in Texas and has recently been displaced by a natural disaster, he/she may have education rights to immediate enrollment and supports and services.

This article was written by Texas RioGrande Legal Aid.

What law protects my child?

The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act is a federal law that allows students who do not have a permanent place to live to stay in their same schools even if they move outside of their school districts, or to immediately enroll in the new district wherever they are.

Who is eligible?

  • Students living with friends or relatives due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason;
  • Students living in motels, hotels, trailer parks or campgrounds due to lack of alternative adequate accommodations;
  • Students living in emergency or transitional shelters;
  • Students who have a primary nighttime residence not designed for or ordinarily used as regular sleeping accommodation for human beings;
  • Students living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations, or similar settings;
  • Children abandoned in hospitals;
  • Children of migrant workers.

What school can my child attend?

If your child has been displaced by a disaster, he/she can continue to attend the school of origin (the last school they attended) and receive transportation, or enroll in the school closest to the place they are now living and receive the same transportation any other student receives. Texas state law also allows displaced students to enroll in any Texas district (but transportation may be not required).

I lost all of my child’s school and health records. How can they enroll?

If the school knows your child is displaced by a disaster it must immediately enroll your child, even if you do not have the typically required enrollment documents and even if you missed the enrollment deadlines while you were homeless. The Homeless Liaison should help you with gathering the required documents.

What if the school will not enroll my child?

They have to! If they won’t, they must tell you ‘no’ in writing and say why not. They must also tell you in writing that you have the right to appeal (challenge) their decision. They must give you the name and contact information of the Homeless Liaison. The Homeless Liaison must help you appeal the decision if you want to. Most importantly, they must enroll your child in that school right away. Your child gets to stay in that school until the dispute is settled.

I no longer have a car. How will my child get to school?

The Homeless Liaison must arrange transportation for displaced children so they can get to school. This can be done by school bus or some other way.

My child was receiving special services due to a disability. Will he/she continue to receive those special services?

Despite the disaster, a school must provide all students with disabilities a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). You should immediately tell the school that your child was receiving special services. The school must determine which services to provide using the best information available, including student and parent interviews. This applies even if you do not have a copy of your child’s IEP or 504 plan. The Homeless Liaison should help you get special services for your child.

What is a “Homeless Liaison” and where do I find them?

Every school district must have a Homeless Liaison. The Homeless Liaison teaches parents of displaced children about their rights. They make sure children have access to a free and appropriate public education. They track down lost records. They settle arguments over school
enrollment. It is their job to find all the displaced children in the school district and take care of their school needs. You can find your local homeless liaison at this website: http://www.theotx.org/liaison/ or ask the school.

The school is saying they have to put my child in a special class or separate school for displaced children. Can they do that?

No. Displaced children may not be segregated (put aside) in any way just because they are
displaced.

What other rights does my child have?

  • To be automatically enrolled in free school meal programs;
  • To receive referrals to health care services, dental services, mental health and substance abuse services, housing services, and other appropriate services;
  • To participate fully in school activities including extracurricular activities;
  • To stay in the same school for the rest of the academic year even if permanently housed; and,
  • To be free from harassment, isolation, and stigmatization.

I think the school is violating my child’s rights. What do I do now?

If the school or Homeless Liaison is not helping you contact your nearest Legal Aid office for help. To apply for education-related disaster legal assistance with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA) call 866.757.1570 or apply online at www.trla.org/youthrights.