Last night on the Christmas edition of the television show, “Glee,” the Glee Club decided to go caroling to raise money for presents for homeless students who participate in the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Program. The episode revolves around the conflict between the Grinchy Sue Sylvester, who stole the presents, and the Glee Club, who went on to sing and sing again to ensure they could make the season brighter for the homeless students.
While no child would turn down a wrapped present, the biggest gift many schools can give to homeless children is the gift of education. The McKinney-Vento Act requires schools to designate a homeless liaison to reach out and identify homeless students, many of whom are too embarrassed to seek help for themselves. The law enables homeless students to stay enrolled at the school they last attended before becoming homeless, or immediately enroll at the new school wherever they move, even if they don’t have all the regular residency documentation.
While many schools do a great job of implementing the law, many others turn a Grinchy blind eye to the struggles of homeless students in their districts. Just earlier in the day, I was on the phone with parents crying because they had lost their home to foreclosure. The parents hadn’t identified themselves to the school as homeless, and the school had failed in its duty to pro-actively identify them. The school had instead kicked their kids out and removed their children’s belongings from their desks in front of all the other students. Despite the fact that they printed out and highlighted a copy of the law from our website, the school refused to re-enroll the children, and they missed two days of school. With our assistance, they were able to get the children re-enrolled by the end of the day - but this never should have happened in the first place.
As we go into the holiday season, we can each do a little something to ensure the gift of public education is shared with homeless students who need it most. Download a fact sheet from our website, make a few copies, and distribute them at local schools, libraries, laundromats, shelters, or budget motels, so parents and children know their rights. Please also consider donating to support our work to protect homeless students’ educational access. Even if you can’t sing like the Glee Club, you can still spread holiday cheer to homeless families by sharing the gift of empowerment and knowledge of their right to education.
-Eric Tars, Human Rights Program Director/Children & Youth Staff Attorney