Dear County and District Superintendents and Charter School Administrators:
Reopening School for Students in Foster Care and Students Experiencing Homelessness
As local educational agencies (LEAs) begin their planning process to reopen schools, it is important to remember special populations such as students in foster care and children and youth experiencing homelessness must be considered.
The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (the Act) is a key piece of federal legislation with California Education Code alignment that pertains to the education of over 270,000 California children and youth experiencing homelessness from early childhood through high school graduation. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and California Education Code afford foster youth additional education rights, as well. Information on foster youth rights can be found on the California Department of Education (CDE) web page (https://www.cde.ca.gov/ls/pf/fy/fyedrights.asp).
Children and youth experiencing homelessness and children and youth in foster care must receive the full protections and services provided under all federal and state laws, as related to homeless and foster education. LEAs must review and undertake steps to revise regulations, practices, or policies that may act as a barrier to the identification, enrollment, attendance, or success of foster youth as well as children and youth experiencing homelessness in school.
The Act defines children and youths experiencing homelessness as individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence including shared housing due to loss of housing, natural disasters, living in motels/hotels, or substandard living situations.
In order to receive educational rights, a foster child is defined as a child who has been removed from his or her home pursuant to Section 309 of the Welfare and Institutions Code, is the subject of a petition filed under Section 300 or 602 of the Welfare and Institutions Code, or has been removed from his or her home and is the subject of a petition filed under Section 300 or 602 of the Welfare and Institutions Code.
Identification and Enrollment
Both foster youth as well as children and youth experiencing homelessness need to be enrolled immediately, even if the parent/guardian or foster parent of the child or youth is unable to produce the records normally required for enrollment (such as previous academic records, records of immunization and other required health records, proof of residency, proof of guardianship, birth certificates, or other documentation).
LEAs and their homeless liaisons are required to ensure that children and youth experiencing homelessness are identified by school personnel through outreach and coordination activities with other entities and agencies. To ensure students in homeless situations are identified, homeless liaisons, in collaboration with school and LEA personnel, should post educational rights, use a housing questionnaire, and offer training to various stakeholders to build awareness and understanding. To access the new housing questionnaire and guidance, please visit the CDE web site (https://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/hs/cy/).
The state identifies foster youth in the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System. LEAs and their foster youth liaisons are required to ensure that children and youth in foster care are also identified in each LEA’s student information system. Additional information on the identification of foster youth can be found at https://www.cde.ca.gov/fg/aa/lc/lcfffaq.asp#EL.
Under ESSA guidelines, LEAs are required to provide or arrange transportation for both foster and homeless students to their school of origin. Transportation must be arranged promptly to ensure immediate enrollment so as not to create barriers to homeless and foster students’ attendance, retention, and success. Even if the LEA does not provide transportation for other students, the LEA will need to provide or arrange transportation if the lack of it is creating a barrier.
A significant number of both homeless and foster students do not have access to a computer or the internet. Over the course of online learning during 2019 Novel Coronavirus, they were required to check in via Zoom or Google classrooms, and participate in other online programs. The LEAs may want to consider the availability of technology for students and prioritize families without connection. It is important to note that an LEA must provide services to foster youth as well as children and youth experiencing homeless that are comparable to services offered to other students in the LEA.
The CDE document entitled Stronger Together provides guidance as a “how to” for safely reopening schools and includes supports related to foster youth and youth experiencing homelessness. The related supports can be found in the Instructional Services, Collaboration and Assessment section of the document. There are also several resources on the CDE web site regarding distance learning and the digital divide. Please visit the following for more information:
- CDE available resources and guidance on distance learning (https://www.cde.ca.gov/ci/cr/dl/index.asp)
- Distance Learning Considerations (https://www.cde.ca.gov/ci/cr/dl/dlconsiderations.asp)
- Lessons from the Field: Remote Learning Guidance (https://www.cde.ca.gov/ci/cr/dl/lessonsfrfld.asp)
- Designing a High-Quality Online Course (https://www.cde.ca.gov/ci/cr/dl/hqonlinecourse.as)
- Distance Learning Webinars (https://www.cde.ca.gov/ls/he/hn/covid19webinars.asp)
- State Superintendent of Public Instruction Closing the Digital Divide Initiative (press release) (https://www.cde.ca.gov/nr/ne/yr20/yr20rel21.asp)
If you have any questions regarding foster youth, please contact the Student Achievement and Support Division (SASD), Foster Youth Program, Integrated Student Support and Programs Office, by email at FosterYouth@cde.ca.gov.
If you have any questions regarding children and youth experiencing homelessness, please contact the SASD, Homeless Education Program, Integrated Student Support and Programs Office, by email at HomelessED@cde.ca.gov.
Rachael Maves, Deputy Superintendent, Instruction and Measurement Branch,
California Department of Education