By Carole D. Mitchell, M.S.W. - District Liaison of the Homeless Education Assistance Resource Team (HEART), Broward County Public Schools (BCPS)
EVERY child, including those living in transition (experiencing homelessness), has the right to a free and appropriate public education! The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act was enacted in 1987, reauthorized in 2001 (under the No Child Left Behind Act) and was most recently amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015.
This federal law governs the important work conducted by HEART to ensure educational stability for children and youth (PreK-12) living in transition. By definition, homeless students are those who have lost their housing due to economic hardship, manmade or natural disaster; fleeing domestic violence or similar situations resulting in a temporary residence that cannot be considered fixed, regular and adequate.
The definition includes students who are “doubled-up” sharing the housing of other persons due to their family’s loss of housing. The primary nighttime residence of students experiencing homelessness may also include motels, camping grounds, residing in emergency or transitional shelters and in some instances, living in cars, parks, abandoned buildings, bus stations or other public places not intended for human habitation.
The overarching goal of the McKinney-Vento Act and HEART is to ensure the removal of barriers that often prevent students experiencing homelessness from enrolling, attending and succeeding in school.
Students and families found to be eligible for HEART services are covered for a full school year even if their episode of homelessness ends before the end of the school year. Resources provided based on need include (but are not limited to) school uniforms; backpacks and school supplies and the coordination of BCPS bus transportation to the student's school of origin if their displacement caused the family to reside outside of the school boundary (certain restrictions apply). Families can also apply for the ArtReach after school care program (K-8th) located in Fort Lauderdale and also have access to summer camp slots at select locations. In addition, Cap and Gown rental assistance and verification letters required when applying for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and colleges are provided to high school seniors on track tograduate.
The provisions mentioned above are available at no cost to students and families deemed eligible for HEART services.
For more information, please contact the HEART office at (754) 321-1566 or visit their website at http://browardstudentservices.com/homeless-education