In February, 231 homeless students were enrolled in the Shawnee Mission School District, according to the district’s Associate Superintendent for Educational Services, Dr. Curtis Cain. This number is down from last year’s year-end total of 308, but higher than the 186 enrolled in the district two years ago. Cain believes there is a chance this years total might surpass last year’s total by the end of the year.
On Feb. 22, the Shawnee Mission School Board read a proposed district policy regarding homeless students in the district. The policy gives a definition for what a homeless student is, specifies the duties of the newly established district homeless coordinator and enrollment and placement guidelines for homeless students. Cain expects the proposed homeless students policy to be adopted by the Board at its March 8 meeting at the McEachen Administrative Building. According to Cain, the district wanted to create a homeless students policy to align themselves more with the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, a national law.
The McKinnney-Vento Act became law in 1987 and was reauthorized as part of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002. In 2009, the U.S. Department of Education published guidelines for the Act and made youth funds available as a part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
According to Cain, the district has proposed the policy because of the guidelines published in 2009. The policy was also proposed because the district has experienced a growing number of homeless students since the economic downturn.
“As we see economic conditions, being what they are, you know everyone’s impacted by that,” Cain said.
The policy defines a homeless student as “A child or youth who shares housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship or a similar reason; lives in a motel, hotel camp ground or other location due to the lack of alternative adequate accommodations; lives in an emergency or transitional shelter; has been abandoned at a hospital; or is awaiting foster care placement.” Also, a homeless student is a student whose nighttime residence is not ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings.
Typically, homeless students fall under the free and reduced lunch umbrella, according to Cain, meaning the district gives them financial assistance to ensure they are given the same opportunities that other students in the district have. With the new policy, the district will also provide transportation aid for its homeless students. The district homeless coordinator will take each student’s case individually and work to ensure they receive the same opportunities as the rest of the district’s students. Even though homeless students may be struggling outside of the classroom, the district still expects them to succeed at school.
“Regardless of the economic status of the student, we have high expectations for all of our students,” Cain said. “We just want to really make sure that we don’t have barriers in the place of these students accessing that curriculum.”
The Olathe School District already has a policy on homeless students and currently has 176 such students in its schools.