[Hpn] inyaface pt 2
Sun, 05 Nov 2000 13:42:39 -0700
School Segregation and Homeless Children and Youth:
Questions and Answers
For purposes of this article, integrated homeless education programs are
those programs that help homeless children enroll, attend, and succeed in
mainstream schools. Segregated classrooms or schools, by contrast, are those
that separate homeless children from housed children on the basis of their
What does Federal Law Say About School Segregation and Homeless Children
Homeless children and youth have a federal right to a free, appropriate
public education. The Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act prohibits
the separation of homeless children from the mainstream school environment
based on their homeless status, and requires states to ensure that homeless
children are not isolated or stigmatized. The Act also requires states to
identify and remove barriers to homeless childrenıs education, such as
residency requirements, school records requirements, delays in transfer of
school records, and lack of transportation.
Today, thousands of schools across the country have eliminated these
barriers, and have successfully supported homeless childrenıs enrollment,
attendance, and success in mainstream schools.
Why do Segregated Schools for Homeless Children and Youth Persist?
Continuing barriers to homeless childrenıs mainstream school education
have resulted in many homeless children being relegated to classrooms in
shelters, or other ³homeless-only² facilities. Commonly cited barriers
include school registration requirements that prevent timely enrollment and
lack of transportation for homeless children. Other justifications for
segregating homeless children include promoting stability, protecting
children from ridicule, providing social services, offering individual
attention, and addressing safety concerns.
Today, at least 40 segregated programs have been identified and studied.
While this represents a small minority of homeless education programs the
norm is inclusion in the mainstream school environment school segregation
represents serious cause for concern, as discussed below.
Why is it Important for Homeless Children and Youth to Attend Mainstream
Two recent national reports provide us with the most comprehensive
information on integrated and segregated homeless education programs. The
first, published in 1999, is a survey of almost 500 local school districts
that operate integrated homeless education programs; the second, published
in 2000, is a survey of segregated educational programs for homeless
children across the nation. Together, these surveys provide compelling
information about the educational practices that work best for homeless
children, as well as those practices that compromise their education and
The information demonstrates that mainstream schools are better able to
meet the needs of homeless children, and to serve more children, than
³homeless-only² schools or classrooms. Moreover, segregating homeless
children from their non-homeless peers is harmful in numerous ways.
QUALITY OF EDUCATION: In the majority of cases, mainstream schools provide
better educational opportunities for homeless children and youth. Most
³homeless-only² programs provide vastly inferior educational opportunities.
A survey of over 40 segregated classrooms or schools found that the
following features typify segregated educational programs:
Most ³homeless-only² schools operate as one-room classrooms with children
of differing ages and grades grouped together under one teacher. Children in
these settings are deprived of the opportunity to be placed in age- and
Many segregated schools do not follow the standards and curricula
prescribed by state or local educational agencies. Homeless children are
thus unable to perform on an equal footing with their peers.
The majority of segregated classrooms or schools do not have the
capabilities to provide students with the full range of educational programs
to which they are entitled, such as special education, gifted and talented,
or bi-lingual education.
Most segregated schools do not employ teachers who are certified to teach
all the grades for which they are responsible. In addition, segregated
schools typically do not offer the same level of professional development
for teachers as their public school counterparts.
Very few segregated programs are able to approximate the scope and
quality of educational services provided by mainstream schools, and very few
have comparable resources. Those few programs that come closest to matching
the quality of education provided by mainstream schools still cannot match
the stability, socialization, and other opportunities offered by mainstream
In addition, survey information from almost 500 integrated homeless
education programs demonstrates that supplemental educational services such
as after-school tutoring are very effective in helping homeless children
improve grades and succeed on statewide assessment tests.
Positive Practices: The Amphitheater Public School District ³Youth on Their
Own Project² in Tucson, Arizona, reported that 60% of the homeless children
in the program, all of whom attend mainstream schools, increased their GPA,
while 25% remained the same, and that the drop-out rate is less than 10%. In
Texas, at least 50% of Houston Independent School Districtıs homeless
program students passed all three statewide assessment exams; on the writing
exam, participants outscored the total student population (83%-77%).
Brentwood Union Free School District, New York, reported attendance
increased by 16%, elementary reading by 6%, and elementary math by 12%,
while high school course failures decreased by 19%, lateness decreased by
39%, and behavior referrals decreased by 53%.
SOCIALIZATION: Schools do more than educate children they play a key role
in the socialization process that helps prepare children to function in
society as adults.
Mainstream schools accomplish this by providing a diverse social
environment and a wide range of extra-curricular activities and events that
are an important part of healthy development (such as sports, music,
associations, proms, and graduations). ³Homeless-only² classrooms or schools
provide an unnatural social environment where all students are grouped by
income, housing, and often racial status. In addition, they do not provide
the extracurricular opportunities offered by mainstream schools. Segregated
programs therefore deprive homeless children of key aspects of a ³normal²
Positive Practices: In Barnstable Public Schools in Hyannis, Massachusetts,
homeless students join the schoolsı after school programs and spend time
with their peers cooking, playing sports, arts/crafts, etc. Bus
transportation is provided. Travel is available for swim lessons at the
YMCA. In Austin, Texas, the homeless education program provides assistance
for homeless students to have caps and gowns for graduation ceremonies.
REMOVAL OF BARRIERS: Integrated homeless education programs have
successfully removed policy and practical barriers to homeless childrenıs
education. Segregated schools or classrooms, on the other hand, often
acquiese to and perpetuate the barriers that prevent homeless children from
enrolling and attending mainstream schools.
For example, in some communities, segregated schools have existed for so
long that state and local educational agencies no longer question their
existence, despite the fact that the schools or classrooms arose due to the
barriers that homeless children faced in accessing mainstream schools. In
addition, some segregated programs fail to challenge rules or policies that
act as barriers to homeless childrenıs school enrollment and attendance, but
rather cite them as reasons that justify the programıs existence. In just
one example, the Thomas J. Pappas school in Phoenix, Arizona has justified
its existence in part by pointing to residency requirements and other
barriers that illegally prevent homeless children from going to mainstream
schools. Yet the school has not acted to challenge or remove these barriers.
Thus, the majority of homeless children in Phoenix continue to face barriers
accessing school; given the limited abilities of the Pappas school to reach
all homeless children in Phoenix, many children may be left with no
educational options at all.
Many mainstream schools, however, have successfully changed school
policy and practice to remove barriers that homeless children face,
including residency requirements, immunization requirements, delays in the
transfer of school records, and lack of transportation. According to a
recent national survey, the most frequently reported success by integrated
homeless education programs was providing access to school. Programs
specifically cited the removal of enrollment barriers; provision of
enrollment assistance; and documented increases in attendance.
Positive Practices: Selma City Schools, Alabama, reported an overall 27%
increase in attendance for the children in their homeless education program,
all of whom attend mainstream schools; children attending the tutoring
program in Pomona Unified School District, California, have increased their
attendance from 90 to 97%; and Sarasota County School District, Florida,
reports that school enrollment and attendance at shelters served by their
integrated homeless education program have increased by 30%.
STABILITY: A major barrier to homeless childrenıs educational success is the
high mobility of homeless families, who move frequently due to limitations
on length of shelter stays, or in search of housing and employment.
Staying in the same school that they were attending before they became
homeless promotes stability and educational continuity significant factors
in academic achievement. It also allows children to keep the same friends,
daily routine, etc., and thus limits the social and emotional disruption
caused by homelessness. Attending ³homeless-only² classrooms or schools adds
one more unnecessary disruption to homeless childrenıs lives.
In contrast, attending a ³homeless-only² school for some or all of the
duration of their homelessness causes children to lose their friends,
teachers, and their normal daily experience. Having to change schools when a
child becomes homeless, and then again when a child becomes housed,
increases the loss and instability in homeless childrenıs lives.
Positive Practice: In Victoria, Texas, the school district adopted a ³one
child, one school, one year² policy to ensure that children maintain
educational continuity regardless of family mobility. Initially the policy
applied only to homeless students, but after massive flooding, was extended
to all students. The result: an increase in daily attendance, an increase in
state education dollars, and increase in statewide assessment test scores.
SCHOOL CHOICE: Homeless children have a right to attend either the school
they were going to before they become homeless, or the school in the area
where they are currently living, depending on which school is determined to
be in the best interest of the child.
Parents whose children attend school in ³homeless-only² facilities,
however, are usually automatically referred by service providers who do not
tell them of their right to go to mainstream schools, or who fail to provide
them with any assistance to do so. In other cases, families are referred to
the segregated school or classroom by a public school that will not accept
them, in violation of federal law. For example, some elementary and middle
schools in Phoenix, Arizona routinely refer homeless children who try to
enroll in their schools to the Thomas J. Pappas School, a ³homeless-only²
school for children grades K-10, rather than enroll them. In these
instances, families are unable to exercise their legal right to choose the
school that is in the best interest of their child. Similarly, families in
motels whose children are provided with transportation to the Pappas school,
but not to regular mainstream schools, are not provided with a real school
choice for their children.
Integrated homeless education programs operating in mainstream schools,
however, train parents and school personnel to understand and exercise their
school selection rights. Not only do these programs help schools comply with
federal law, they also allow parents to make important choices about what is
in the best interest of their child.
Positive Practice: In Miami-Dade County, Florida, the homeless education
program disseminates informational parent brochures in three languages
(Spanish, Creole, and English) so that parents know their childrenıs rights
and the choices that are available to them. Gaston County Schools in
Gaston, North Carolina includes parental education on their childrenıs
rights as part of its comprehensive homeless education program.
OUTREACH AND IDENTIFICATION: Mainstream schools are in the best position to
serve all homeless children, regardless of where they live. Segregated
schools or classrooms cannot identify and serve all homeless children in the
community because such schools enroll only children living in shelters or
other easily identifiable locations.
Most homeless children do not live in shelters or other easily
identifiable locations, but rather live in inexpensive motels, campgrounds,
or cars, or temporarily share housing with relatives or friends. In fact,
according to the most recent U.S. Department of Education Report to
Congress, only a third of homeless children and youth live in shelters. In
part, this reflects a lack of shelter capacity; according to the U.S.
Conference of Mayors, in 1999, 37% of all requests for emergency shelter by
families went unmet due to lack of space. In rural areas, there may be no
family shelters. In addition, the fear, embarrassment, and humiliation
associated with homelessness prevents families from seeking assistance, as
well as from disclosing their homeless status.
In response to the invisibility of most homeless children, integrated
homeless education programs in mainstream schools have developed successful
methods of training school personnel to recognize signs of homelessness, and
therefore assist ³hidden² homeless children with appropriate supplies,
services, and referrals. Some of these programs also provide extensive
outreach to help identify homeless children and youth who are not in school.
In this way, integrated homeless education programs assist many children and
families who would not otherwise receive help.
In contrast, ³homeless-only² schools serve only a small proportion of
homeless children in the community typically only those who seek and are
able to get into shelters. Those few schools who are able to recruit
families from non-shelter locations still cannot reach the majority of
homeless children in their communities.
Positive Practice: The YWCA School, a segregated school for homeless
children in Spokane, WA, provided educational services to 104 homeless
children in 1998-1999. Spokane School District 81 closed the YWCA school the
following year, in recognition of federal requirements to mainstream
homeless students. The district began training school personnel to serve
homeless students in an integrated fashion, including awareness-raising
about signs of homelessness, the federal law, and who to contact for help.
In the first year of mainstreaming, the school served 340 children more
than three times as many as had been served by the segregated program.
SUPPORT SERVICES: Information gathered in a national survey of almost 500
integrated homeless education programs demonstrates that mainstream schools
can provide a comprehensive array of support services to homeless children
and youth with discretion and dignity. Mainstream schools across the country
are successfully providing tutoring, counseling, clothing, school supplies,
and other needed services to homeless children, while at the same time
helping their families with referrals to existing community resources for
food, shelter, and health care.
In contrast, the majority of ³homeless-only² schools do not have a wide
range of resources at their disposal. Those few programs that do have
resources only provide support to the small proportion of their communityıs
homeless children who attend their program, and only for as long as the
children stay enrolled in their program.
Positive Practice: In California, the West Contra Costa Unified School
District provides a wide array of educational support services to homeless
children. These services reflect a coordinated effort of students, parents,
teachers, district support services, community-based organizations, social
services, health services and private business in the community. Services
provided include tutoring, academic assessments at school and shelter sites,
transportation vouchers, Saturday School, Summer School, Parenting classes,
enrollment assistance, assistance to access necessary support services
(e.g., health and social services), referrals to supplemental education
services, preschool programs, 800 Hotline number for families in need,
awareness workshops on homelessness for classified, certified staff and
community groups, and mental health.
STIGMA: Some programs justify segregating homeless children and youth in
order to protect children from ridicule. However, being identified with a
³homeless only² school may exacerbate the stigma associated with
homelessness. In addition, these schools or classrooms produce a visible
concentration of children who are experiencing homelessness, and who are
isolated only because they are homeless.
Indeed, it was the objections and litigation by homeless parents in
Vancouver, Washington and Chicago, Illinois that lead to the closings of
segregated classrooms in those communities. More recently, parents in
Spokane, Washington expressed relief at the closing of a ³homeless-only²
school there; one parent cried because she had been afraid to tell anyone of
her familyıs homeless status for fear that her children would be sent to the
Homeless education programs in mainstream schools address stigma by
ensuring that homeless children have the same supplies, clothing, and
materials as non-homeless children, allowing them to ³fit in² and be like
Positive Practices: The St. Vrain Valley School District in Longmont,
Colorado, provides over 200 backpacks filled with school supplies to
homeless children; the Carson City School District in Carson City, Nevada,
provides 15-25 students per month with clothing and hygiene products; last
year it provided 205 pairs of shoes to children in need.
Many programs also successfully implement teacher trainings and staff
development to raise awareness and sensitize school personnel to the impact
of homelessness on their students. Other programs use curricula and
community service activities to sensitize housed students to the plight of
their homeless peers. These kinds of activities have proven effective in
fostering greater understanding, awareness, and sensitivity.
Positive Practices: Baltimore County Public Schools in Baltimore, Maryland
provide extensive professional development throughout the school system, and
have been especially successful at helping school secretaries gain
sensitivity to homeless families and children when they enter the school
system. The Baltimore County Schools also provide community service
activities to help housed students gain a greater understanding of
RACIAL AND ECONOMIC INTEGRATION: Homelessness is an extreme form of poverty;
people who are mostly likely to experience homelessness are those most at
risk of poverty. In the United States today, minority families are more
likely to experience poverty than white families. Minority children are thus
disproportionately represented among the homeless population. Therefore,
schools that enroll only homeless children are not only segregating children
by economic and housing status, they are also likely to be segregating
children by race or ethnicity.
Positive Practice: A segregated school for homeless children in St. Paul,
Minnesota was closed down as the result of objections from the
superintendent because the vast majority of the children who attended it
were African-American. The children have since been successfully integrated
into mainstream schools.
Homeless families and children face widespread discrimination and bias
based on their housing, economic, and racial status. In some communities,
schools may be reluctant to enroll homeless children and youth because of
this bias, and therefore welcome the creation of segregated schools as a way
of not having homeless children and youth present in their classrooms. This
racism/classism may be an underlying factor behind the persistence of some
³homeless-only² classrooms or schools.
SAFETY: Some programs justify segregating homeless children and youth in
order to protect children and their families who are fleeing domestic
violence. However, it is not necessary to segregate homeless children in
order to protect them. Schools are responsible for the safety of all
children, including those who are victims of domestic violence, regardless
of their housing status. Mainstream schools can respond to safety concerns
by training school staff on confidentiality laws and policies, helping
families to file copies of protective orders with schools, and taking the
necessary practical steps to ensure anonymity and safety of children. In so
doing, they can address safety concerns and provide equal educational
opportunities without causing further disruption in childrenıs lives.
Positive Practice: The following example illustrates the comprehensive
measures integrated homeless education programs take to ensure the safety
and care of homeless children.
³Let me tell you about one child Iıve worked with this year. Her name is
Hannah and she came to live in our townıs battered womenıs shelter one night
in March with her mother and baby sister. They left their abusive home in
the middle of the night, so of course Hannah arrived without school books,
school shoes, or any school records. As their advocate, I helped Hannahıs
mom to enroll her in school in our county the very next day. I reminded
school personnel that homeless children are protected under the McKinney Act
so that they enrolled her without delay. Next, I gave Hannah a backpack and
school supplies purchased with McKinney dollars. That afternoon, I set up an
appointment for Hannah to get new school shoes from a group of church women
in our community that buy shoes for needy children. Next, I set up school
bus transportation for Hannah at a secret pick up and drop off spot to
ensure her safety and anonymity. Finally, I educated the school staff and
the bus driver about her special circumstances.
³I saw Hannah just the other day at school. You would never know from
the bright look on her face what living hell sheıs been through this year.
She stood there in the hallway at school happy, learning, and with the
opportunity to forget about her homelessness when she walks in those doors.
I asked Hannah what makes her enjoy school, and she told me that it was the
special help and attention she received from school staff. She told me that
the lunch room lady, her teachers, and others wink and smile at her each
day.² (School Social Worker, Homeless Education Program, Clarke County
School District, Athens, Georgia)
What Happens to Homeless Children When Segregated Schools Close?
Buffalo, New York: The Cornerstone Manor School operated a separate
classroom in a shelter from 1990 until May 2000. In May 2000, the New York
State Department of Education and the Buffalo School District agreed that
the school violated the McKinney Actıs equal access and mainstreaming
provisions, and that it should cease operation. Cornerstone Manor had
previously only served up to 16 children at a time; a new needs assessment
revealed the presence of 1,500 homeless children in the district. The
district has received a McKinney homeless education grant and has already
begun work on implementing an integrated homeless education program.
Charlotte, North Carolina: A Childıs Place, a non-profit organization, is
a former segregated school that now helps identify homeless children and
helps them to enroll in mainstream schools. A Childıs Place also operates as
a resource center for homeless families, providing food, clothing, hygiene,
school supplies, referrals, and tutoring. A Childıs Place has found that the
homeless children attending mainstream schools experience fewer behavioral
problems, a decrease in fighting among children, and increased opportunities
for normal peer relationships. Since closing the school, the number of
homeless children assisted has increased by 15%.
Chicago, Illinois: In the course of litigating a lawsuit against the
Chicago Board of Education, homeless parents complained about an elementary
schoolıs refusal to admit their children and the schoolıs referral of their
children to a classroom within a shelter. The litigation revealed that the
classroom increased disruption, failed to meet the needs of children with
disabilities, and provided inadequate curricula and books. The Chicago Board
of Education agreed to close the school as part of a larger settlement.
Homeless children now attend either their school of origin, or the school in
the area in which they are living.
St. Paul, Minnesota: From 1997-1999, many homeless children were placed in
the New Arrivals ³homeless-only² school by the St. Paul School District,
often due to lack of school records. The school was closed in June of 1999
after the superintendent objected to the schoolıs de facto racial
segregation. Since the schoolıs closing, the St. Paul Title I Homeless
Education Program has worked to keep children stable in their school of
origin. In addition, the program provides supplemental academic assistance
through after-school tutoring in an extended-day program. The school
district is in the process of revising its policies to allow for increased
educational access for homeless children.
San Antonio, Texas: For approximately 7 years, the San Antonio Independent
School District operated a segregated classroom for homeless children in an
emergency shelter. After the Superintendent decided to close the school
down, the district began providing transportation, enrollment assistance,
and after-school tutorial support. The children have been successfully
integrated into mainstream schools for the past four years.
Spokane, Washington: For nine years, the YWCA in Spokane operated a
segregated school for homeless children that enrolled children from nearby
emergency shelters. After concerns about the isolation and poor academic
services at the school, the school ceased operation in 1999, and all
homeless children were enrolled in mainstream schools. The first year of
transition has been highly successful in identifying and serving homeless
children. In fact, last year the district served three times as many
children as under the segregated model. The YWCA continues to fund-raise for
school supplies and offers an after-school tutoring program.
Vancouver, Washington: For several years, Vancouver School District 37
maintained a separate classroom for homeless children in a public elementary
school. After several parents protested the placement of their children in
the segregated classroom, the school integrated the children into regular
classrooms. The district has found the closing of the ³homeless-only²
classroom to be very beneficial; in fact, the school principals now find
that the homeless children are among the most stable in their schools.
Victoria, Texas: As a result of barriers to mainstream school education,
the Victoria Youth Home operated a segregated classroom for students who
resided at the shelter. The shelter classroom was closed down in 1998 after
a newly appointed school district homeless education coordinator objected to
the unequal education provided to the students. The shelter director and
homeless education coordinator worked with the school district to provide
extensive teacher training, communication, and transportation. Today, both
the shelter director and homeless education coordinator report that the
children are receiving a better education, and are having a better social
For source materials for this report, and to learn more about homeless
children and school segregation, contact:
National Coalition for the Homeless
1012 14th Street, NW; Suite 600
Washington, DC 20005-3406
Ain't the worlds best writer, ain't the world's best speller, but when
I believe in something, I'm the world's loudest yeller. Woody Guthrie
A Publication of the Coalition on Homelessness, San Francisco
468 Turk St.
San Francisco, CA 94102
415 / 346.3740 - voice
415 / 775.5639 - fax