[Hpn] school for the homeless
Coalition on Homelessness, SF
Fri, 15 Sep 2000 11:45:05 -0700
School Segregation and Homeless Children and Youth:
Questions and Answers
What do We Mean By School Segregation?
For purposes of this document, 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 homelessness alone.
What does Federal Law Say About School Segregation and Homeless
Children and Youth?
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 children's 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 children's
enrollment, attendance, and success in mainstream schools.
Why do Segregated Schools for Homeless Children and Youth Persist?
Continuing barriers to homeless children's mainstream school
education have resulted in many homeless children being relegated to
classrooms in shelters, or other "homeless-only" 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
Today, at least 40 segregated programs have been identified and
studied.1 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
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.2 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 healthy development.
The available information demonstrates that mainstream schools are
better able to meet the needs of homeless children, and to serve more
children, than "homeless-only" 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 "homeless-only" programs provide vastly inferior
educational opportunities. A survey of over 40 segregated classrooms
or schools found that the following features typify segregated
* Most "homeless-only" 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 grade-appropriate classrooms.
* 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
* 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
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 schools.
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
Positive Practices: The Amphitheater Public School District "Youth on
Their Own Project" 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 District's 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). "Homeless-only"
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 "normal" childhood.
Positive Practices: In Barnstable Public Schools in Hyannis,
Massachusetts, homeless students join the schools' 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
children's 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
children's school enrollment and attendance, but rather cite them as
reasons that justify the program's 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 children's 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
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
"homeless-only" classrooms or schools adds one more unnecessary
disruption to homeless children's lives.3
In contrast, attending a "homeless-only" 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
Positive Practice: In Victoria, Texas, the school district adopted a
"one child, one school, one year" 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 "homeless-only" 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 "homeless-only" 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 children's rights and the choices that are available to them.
Gaston County Schools in Gaston, North Carolina includes parental
education on their children's 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 "hidden" 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, "homeless-only" 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 "homeless-only" 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
community's 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 "homeless only" 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
"homeless-only" school there; one parent cried because she had been
afraid to tell anyone of her family's homeless status for fear that
her children would be sent to the "homeless" school.
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 "fit in" and be
like everyone else.
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
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 homelessness issues.
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
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 "homeless-only"
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 children's lives.
Positive Practice: The following example illustrates the
comprehensive measures integrated homeless education programs take to
ensure the safety and care of homeless children.
"Let me tell you about one child I've worked with this year. Her name
is Hannah and she came to live in our town's battered women's 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 Hannah's 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.
I saw Hannah just the other day at school. You would never know from
the bright look on her face what living hell she's 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." - School Social Worker,
Homeless Education Program, Clarke County School District, Athens,
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 Act's
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 begun work on implementing
an integrated homeless education program.
* Charlotte, North Carolina: A Child's 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
Child's Place also operates as a resource center for homeless
families, providing food, clothing, hygiene, school supplies,
referrals, and tutoring. A Child's 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 a litigating a lawsuit
against the Chicago Board of Education, homeless parents complained
about an elementary school's refusal to admit their children and the
school's 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 "homeless-only" 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
school's de facto racial segregation. Since the school's 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 "homeless-only" 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
1. Separate and Unequal: A Report on Educational Barriers for
Homeless Children & Youth, National Law Center on Homelessness &
Poverty, 2000 [Back].
2. Making the Grade: Successes and Challenges in Providing
Educational Opportunities to Homeless Children and Youth, National
Association for the Education of Homeless Children & Youth and
National Coalition for the Homeless, 1999 and Separate and Unequal: A
Report on Educational Barriers for Homeless Children & Youth,
National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, 2000 [Back].
3.Under federal law, homeless children and youth have the right to
remain in their original school, to the extent feasible, if it is
determined to be in their best interest to do so. [Back].
For more information, please contact Barbara Duffield at NCH at
202.737.6444, ext. 312, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
>I think that this school for homeless children is a
>wonderful idea, and should be used as a model in other
>The way you desribe this school, it is neither
>discriminatory, nor is it segregative(?).
>Actually, in most "integrated" public schools, just
>the opposite is true. Because homeless children are at
>the "bottom of the pecking order", in most public
>schools, because of their economic/social status, they
>are more likely to suffer the ridicule and teasing
>from other children in the public school system than
>those that are housed.
>Also, as most homeless families are transient in the
>sense that they will move from place to place in even
>the same city, the children will be moved from school
>to school disrupting the flow of learning...
>This school for homeless children sounds like a
>definite solution rather than a "band-aid" approach to
>help these children achieve a quality and consistent
>Keep up the good work!!!!!
>Peace and Solidarity;
>Do You Yahoo!?
>Yahoo! Mail - Free email you can access from anywhere!
Coalition on Homelessness, San Francisco
468 Turk St.
San Francisco, CA 94102
vox: (415) 346.3740
Fax: (415) 775.5639