Disaster Manual: Section 14 - Education
This is the fourteenth section of the Disaster Manual. This section is on education. This resource is meant for volunteer lawyers. This resource was written by Lone Star.
Disaster Manual Table of Contents
Click each title to go to that section of the manual. - Index Page
- FEMA Assistance
- Falling Trees, Flying Limbs & Loud Neighbors
- Landlord/Tenant Issues
- Real and Personal Property
- Employer/Employee Issues
- Social Security, Banking, and Financial Issues
- Consumer Protection Issues
- Insurance Issues
- Health Care Issues
- Personal Bankruptcy Issues
- Replacing Lost Documents
- Family Law Issues
- Resource & Referral Guide
Federal law provides protections for children who are homeless or become displaced as the result of a natural disaster. The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 1987 defines “homeless children and youths” as children who do not have a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence. 42 U.S.C. § 11434a(2)(A). The McKinney-Vento Act includes protections for children and youths who reside in shelters, transitional housing, cars, campgrounds, hotels, motels, and even those children and youths that are forced to live with others temporarily because of a disaster. 42 U.S.C. § 11434a(2)(B).
The McKinney-Vento Act guarantees the right of homeless/displaced students to enroll immediately into the public school that serves the attendance area where the students are staying temporarily. Additionally, Tex. Edu. Code § 25.001(b)(5), allows a homeless student to enroll in any school district in Texas, regardless of where they are living temporarily. Thus, to make the best and most informed school enrollment decision, families and students impacted by a natural disaster should spend some time seeking additional guidance on what to do given their specific circumstances.
Students that are homeless/displaced as a result of a natural disaster are entitled to immediate enrollment in public school even if they don’t have the documentation that schools typically require for registration, like proof of residency, birth certificates, immunization and health records. School districts are required to help students obtain these important documents. For example, school districts should provide English Language Learners (ELLs) who enroll without documentation from their previous school with protections that allow access to appropriate programming. This inquiry is made more accessible after conversations with parents and students, and a review of the documents already within their possession. Advocates can also request that a student’s enrolling district make a Texas Records Exchange (TREx) System request to the student’s previous district, as many impacted districts still have access to electronic student information.
First, under the McKinney-Vento Act, homeless/displaced students are eligible for free school meals without delay.
Second, homeless/displaced students have the right to go back to their “school of origin” (the school they attended before the disaster), and the school district must provide them with transportation to and from their “school of origin” if a parent or guardian makes a request.
Third, homeless/displaced students who enroll in a new school district must receive transportation services that are comparable to the transportation services that other regularly housed students receive.
Fourth, school districts must assess the needs of homeless/displaced students and refer those students and their families to appropriate local resources, including health, mental health, dental, housing, substance abuse, and other community-based supports and services.
Fifth, homeless/displaced students are entitled to participate in any school and extracurricular activities to the fullest extent.
Sixth and finally, if a receiving school does not agree that a homeless/displaced student is eligible to attend that school, the student has the right to remain enrolled pending any appeals, to receive a written explanation of the reasons for the district’s objections to enrollment, and to receive assistance from the district’s homeless liaison to dispute the school’s decision regarding school selection and enrollment.
Every school district in Texas is required to have a homeless liaison that is responsible for coordinating efforts to assist and support homeless/displaced students. The Texas Homeless Education Office (THEO) maintains a current directory of these liaisons: http://www.theotx.org/liaison/. THEO also maintains a toll-free hotline: (1-800-446-3142).
Homeless status is exclusive of special education identification, and thus special education programming follows students to any school in which they enroll. Parents who are forced to enroll a student with a disability in a different district because of displacement due to a disaster are entitled to services comparable to what they previously received.
A parent should disclose if their child was previously receiving special education services during the enrollment procedure to ensure that the school gives the student expedited special education services. For students with disabilities that enroll with missing or incomplete special education records, school districts must ensure those students receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE) by using whatever information is available at the time of enrollment. This information includes, but is not limited to, records provided by the parent, interviews with the parent and student, and conversations with the student’s medical and/or mental health providers.
The receiving school must develop temporary individual education programs (IEPs) within ten school days if the student cannot provide it with sufficient documentation to determine the appropriate programming and services. The receiving school must then, within thirty days, gather additional information, develop or propose new IEPs, and determine the need for further assessment. Knowledge of current programs or supports services prohibits the dismissal of the programs or services without the current assessment. These supports include special education transportation, counseling, occupational therapy, physical therapy, assistive technology, speech therapy, behavior supports, and specialized instruction.
If a disaster destroys a student’s records that diagnosed a disability, or established the student’s special education eligibility, and consequently were the basis of educational and Admission, Review, and Dismissal (ARD) committee decisions, the school district that the child is enrolled in must convene an ARD committee to address the student’s specific situation. The ARD committee must determine a course of action to address the lack of documentation and what steps the student needs to take to remain in compliance with the federal framework for special education eligibility. The ARD committee should gather, review, and discuss data and observations from teachers and related services staff that might establish the student’s continued eligibility by conducting a Review of Existing Evaluation Determination (REED). If the school district cannot establish the student’s eligibility, it must conduct a new assessment with parental consent.
After a disaster, new academic or behavioral needs may arise within a student’s educational program. The student’s school district must convene an ARD committee to determine the best course of action to address the student’s new need.
For a student who is not eligible for receiving special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Educational Act (IDEA), but is still experiencing educational difficulties after a disaster, the student may be eligible for disability identification under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Section 504 provides a broader definition of an individual with a disability and allows for accommodations and supports within the education environment that may be appropriate for a trauma-based diagnosis.