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There are two different laws that address the question of where children and youth experiencing homelessness can enroll. The Texas Education Code (TEC) §25.001(b)(5) states that a school district shall enroll a person that is homeless, regardless of the residence of that person or either parent of that person, or of the person's legal guardian or other person having lawful control of that person. Therefore, if a student is homeless, he can enroll in any district in the State of Texas, regardless of where the student’s parent(s) or guardian(s) reside. The TEC does not specify a process for establishing which school within a district the homeless student will attend.
A student that is homeless can, literally, enroll in any district in the state. This type of enrollment usually occurs when students choose to remain in their school of origin even though they have moved into a shelter of some other temporary residence in an adjoining or nearby district. Because of this, TEC §25.001(b)(5) does help to foster school continuity for students experiencing homelessness.
The second law that affects the school in which children and youth experiencing homelessness can enroll is the federal McKinney-Vento Act, Sec. 722(g)(3)(A). This provision instructs school districts to allow a child or youth in a homeless situation to continue their education in their school of origin, or to enroll the child or youth in any public school that nonhomeless students who live in the attendance area where the child or youth is actually living are eligible to attend.
This section of the McKinney-Vento Act, known as the school selection provision, requires that each homeless child be allowed to maintain enrollment in the school the child attended before becoming homeless or where the student was last enrolled (school of origin), or to enroll in the school where the child is now located while experiencing homelessness, whichever is in the best interest of the child. The Local Educational Agency (LEA) is directed to comply to the extent feasible with the request made by a parent or guardian regarding school selection.
These options regarding school selection extend for the entire duration of the family's or youth's homelessness. When a homeless family or youth becomes permanently housed during the course of a school year and no longer is homeless, the school choice option remains in effect until the end of that school year. Therefore, if a homeless child or youth becomes permanently housed before the end of the school year, they may continue to attend the school they were attending while homeless until the end of that school year. If the family's or youth's homelessness lasts longer than the school year, the school choice option remains in effect the entire duration of homelessness.
If a child or youth becomes homeless during the summer break, or during some other inter-session break, the McKinney-Vento choice provision applies to the following school year, and then continues as outlined in the options discussed above. Therefore, when a child or youth becomes homeless over the summer, they have a choice for enrollment when the new school year begins. They can either enroll in the school they would have attended had they not become homeless or the school where they now reside as a homeless student.
The school of origin is defined by the McKinney-Vento Act as the school that the child or youth attended, or would have attended, when permanently housed or the school in which the child or youth was last enrolled [Sec. 722(g)(3)(G); 42 U.S.C. 11432(g)(3)(G)]. This definition is an important part of the McKinney-Vento Act, since it affects LEA responsibilities for providing school transportation services to homeless children and youths.
Because these two laws, Section 25.001(b)(5) of the TEC and the school selection provision of the McKinney-Vento Act, are similar, they are often confused. However, they do provide for different things. Section 25.001(b)(5) of the TEC concerns the district in which a child or youth experiencing homelessness can enroll. The school selection provision of the McKinney-Vento Act concerns the specific school that a child or youth experiencing homelessness can attend. This school choice provision stipulates a minimum standard with which a state must comply for students who become homeless—it must allow at least for the selection between the school of origin and the school of the new location; however, it does not limit the state to only these two choices. Thus the TEC and the school selection provision of McKinney work in conjunction with each other to expand the educational options available to students experiencing homelessness.
There is an additional provision of the TEC that, indirectly, has the potential to affect the school that a child or youth experiencing homelessness attends. TEC §25.033 provides parents or persons standing in parental relation to a child the opportunity to request assignment to a specific school. This could provide an additional option for parents or caregivers of homeless children when those children are making use of the district choice provision of the TEC.
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Helpful information may also be found in the Texas Education Agency's Student Attendance Accounting Handbook (pdf 840kb).