The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) recently issued guidance to schools and districts on how to best support students experiencing homelessness in the upcoming school year. The guidance, Supporting Homeless Students During the 2020-21 School Year Guidance for Schools and Districts, is posted on ISBE’s website both on the Homeless Education page, and the COVID-19 page. The Guidance was also distributed statewide via the Superintendent’s Weekly Message.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused widespread job loss, health complications, and unstable housing leaving many more families and children homeless or at risk of homelessness. Some temporary eviction prevention measures have been put in place statewide, but those measures are expiring if not renewed by state or federal action. Dramatically increased number of evictions in the state are expected. As a result, more students are expected to lose their housing during the 2020-21 school year and will be entitled to educational rights and services pursuant to the federal McKinney-Vento Act.
The guidance document is the result of collaboration and input from ISBE, the Law Project of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH), a group of CCH leaders who are parents or grandparents of school-age children with lived experience of homelessness, McKinney-Vento liaisons and national partners.
Kellia Phillips, a CCH leader, who is a parent of children in Chicago Public Schools and contributed to the collaboration said, “It was an amazing opportunity to be able to be part of creating a guiding document that could potentially help keep our children safe if they return to school in the fall. I appreciate everyone who took the time to hear my thoughts and my voice to be heard on the paper.”
Barbara Duffield, Executive Director at SchoolHouse Connections, a national organization providing advocacy and practical assistance on the educational rights of homeless students said, “The guidance on homeless students published by the Illinois State Board of Education is an excellent resource for ensuring equitable access to education and services for children and youth experiencing homelessness, as the school year begins under the shadow of COVID-19. The guidance clearly and comprehensively lays out the legal obligations and the practical strategies and resources for identification, enrollment, learning, and basic needs. It is a model for other states to help our nation’s most vulnerable students stay connected to school, and get the help they need to thrive, during the coming school year and throughout the pandemic.”
The guidance document was designed for administrators and school staff to support students experiencing homelessness during the 2020-21 school year. The document discusses:
- ensuring that local McKinney-Vento liaisons provide comprehensive services to families and students;
- identifying students who experienced homelessness during COVID-19 or were experiencing homelessness prior to the pandemic;
- enrolling students immediately in school;
- providing robust distance learning support to homeless students during periods of remote learning,
- making sure families who are homeless have access to food,
- providing access to personal protective equipment, trauma informed training and support,
- working with community service providers and,
- assisting homeless students with accessing public benefits.
Many of the responsibilities and duties outlined in this document are unchanged from before the pandemic began, but take on heightened urgency as homelessness and housing instability are further exacerbated by COVID-19 realities.
The Law Project of CCH provides free legal assistance to families and students experiencing homelessness. For help, please call our hotline, 1-800-940-1119 or contact Education Attorney Alyssa Phillips at firstname.lastname@example.org.
– Alyssa Phillips, Education Attorney