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October 12, 2017
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JP O'Hare

(518) 474-1201



State Education Department Advises Schools On Rights Of Students Displaced By Recent Natural Disasters

McKinney-Vento Act Provides for Immediate Enrollment and Free Meals for 
Displaced Students Without School Records

The State Education Department today issued guidance to school districts regarding the rights of students displaced by the recent natural disasters, as well as the services available to these children. Students who are temporarily displaced due to disaster are likely protected by the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act, a federal law that details the educational rights of students in temporary housing. Under the McKinney-Vento Act, students in temporary housing can enroll immediately in a school in the district where they are temporarily living even if they do not have the documents normally needed or missed enrollment deadlines. In addition, these displaced children are eligible for free school meals, Title 1 services, and services to support students with disabilities and English language learners.

“The Board of Regents and the New York State Education Department are deeply concerned about the mounting scope of these tragedies and what it means for schoolchildren in the impacted areas,” Board of Regents Chancellor Betty A. Rosa said. “Children displaced from their homes, and everything that is familiar to them, face unique challenges as they enter a new school in a new state. This guidance provides districts with the information they need to quickly enroll these children and help re-establish a sense of normalcy in their lives.”

“The Department stands ready to help school districts enroll these displaced students who likely have no school records available as a result of the devastation caused by these unrelenting natural disasters,” State Education Department Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said. “Even with no records, displaced children have a right to attend school, benefit from free meals and get the individualized instruction they received in their home state. Our guidance provides important information and resources for displaced families and the schools that will serve them.”

Recently, Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria battered Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and several other countries in the Caribbean, leaving thousands of people displaced. Some families from these impacted areas, and their school-aged children, have already relocated to New York and many more may relocate in the coming weeks and months. NYSED issued guidance to school districts to assist them in enrolling and serving these displaced students.

Highlights from the guidance are included below. For complete information, please see the full guidance.

  • Immediate Enrollment and School Records: Students in temporary housing are entitled to immediate enrollment in school even if they are unable to produce records normally required for enrollment, such as academic records, special education records, medical records, immunization records, proof of residency, or other documentation. Such students must also be immediately enrolled even if they have missed application or enrollment deadlines during any period of homelessness, if applicable. In addition, students in temporary housing must have access to all programs, activities and services to the same extent as they are provided to resident students.
  • Immunization and Health Requirements:  Students displaced by the hurricanes may have up-to-date immunizations but may not have proof of immunizations. It is the enrolling school’s responsibility to request a copy of the immunization records from the school previously attended. Generally, an unvaccinated student cannot attend school in New York State in excess of 14 days unless: (1) the student is transferring from out-of-state or from another country and can show a good faith effort to get the necessary certification or other evidence of immunizations, in which case the 14-day period may be extended to not more than 30 days; or (2) the student has been legally exempted for medical reasons or because the child’s parents hold genuine and sincere religious beliefs which are contrary to vaccination practices. If a student in temporary housing needs to obtain immunizations or required school physicals, the school’s McKinney-Vento liaison must assist the student’s parent or guardian in obtaining the necessary immunizations, physical exam or medical records. If a student is unable to obtain a physical through their personal medical provider, the district medical director must provide a school physical at no cost to the parent or guardian.
  • Unaccompanied Youth: Youth who are not in the physical custody of their parents or legal guardians and are living in a temporary housing arrangement are also protected under McKinney-Vento. This may include youth whose parents have sent them to temporarily live with relatives in New York because of damage to the parents’ homes as a result of the hurricanes. Such youth are entitled to immediate enrollment and full participation in school and do not need parental consent to enroll in school.
  • Title I, Part A: All schools that receive Title I Part A funds must reserve funds to support students who are homeless. Because students in temporary housing often have unique needs that differ from the needs of permanently housed students, Title I, Part A set-aside funds may be used for services not ordinarily provided by Title I including: school supplies; school clothes; eyeglasses; fees associated with getting a birth certificate needed by the school; counseling to address, for example, exposure to traumatic events that impacts the student’s learning; and funding for the McKinney-Vento liaison and transportation.
  • Free Meals: All students in temporary housing are eligible to receive free school meals without submitting an application.
  • Student with Disabilities (SWDs): Disaster emergencies will result in students with disabilities transferring from outside of New York State to in-State school districts.  In these cases, the receiving school districts must:
    • Provide the student with a free appropriate public education, including special education programs and services comparable to those described in the previously held individualized education program (IEP), in consultation with the parent(s), until the school district conducts an individual evaluation (if determined necessary by the school district), makes an eligibility determination, and develops a new IEP, if appropriate.
    • Take reasonable steps to promptly obtain the IEP and any other records relating to the provision of special education programs and services to the child.
    • Develop a temporary IEP with the agreement of the parent or guardian if an IEP is not immediately available, but it is understood that a student is a student with a disability in need of special education and related services. If a parent or guardian is not in agreement with a temporary IEP, the student should be enrolled in a regular school program until appropriate evaluations and eligibility determinations can be made.
    • Provide parent(s) a copy of the procedural safeguards notice that indicates the legal rights of parents under federal and State law regarding students with disabilities.  The procedural safeguards notice must be provided in the native language of the parent or other mode of communication, unless it is clearly not feasible to do so. For more information, view a copy of the procedural safeguards notice.

NYSED's 14 Special Education Parent Centers are available to assist families of students with disabilities impacted by these emergency disasters in the transition of their children to NYS school districts.

  • English Language Learners (ELLs): All newly enrolled students, including those who reenter New York State public school after a two-year absence, must normally go through the ELL identification process within 10 school days. If a Home Language Questionnaire (HLQ) reflects that a language other than English is spoken at home, a qualified staff member must conduct an individual interview in English and the student’s home language, at which the student’s prior work in English and the home language is reviewed if available.  If a newly enrolled student is identified as an ELL, such student is to be provided a final program placement in a Bilingual Education (BE) or English as a New Language (ENL) program within 10 school days. 

NYSED also encourages districts that experience an increase in their ELL populations to utilize supports and technical assistance offered by eight (8) Regional Bilingual Education Resource Networks (RBERNs) throughout the State, which include seven (7) regional RBERNs and one (1) Statewide Language RBERN.

  • Trauma-Sensitive Strategies for School Success: When it comes to success in school, students living in temporary housing have immediate needs that range from transportation to supplies. However, many students also have other unique needs that stem from stress and/or trauma that need to be addressed in order for them to thrive academically and socially. There is much evidence to suggest that creating a safe and supportive school environment, building secure attachments, and developing a student's non-cognitive skills can lead to student stability and success. Visit NYS-TEACHS' Trauma-Sensitive Strategies for School Success webpage for information and resources that can help you both understand and address the impact of toxic stress and trauma as well as implement trauma-sensitive strategies that will ultimately lead to school success.

Educators may also find information regarding mental health by viewing guidance at Mental Health Resources for Educators.

Resources on school health are available at the New York State Center for School Health.

The full guidance regarding displaced students is available on NYSED’s website.