The devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina has resulted in many families from Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama seeking refuge in Arkansas. As a result, Arkansas communities are coming to the aid of Arkansas neighboring states in a variety of ways. Many of these families have children of school age who are in need of assistance. Given the circumstances it is difficult to estimate the anticipated number of families with children and the period of time these families will be displaced while waiting to return home.
The federal McKinney-Vento Assistance Act defines homeless children and youth (school-age and younger) as, “Children and youth who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence, including those who are: sharing housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason; living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camping grounds due to lack of alternative adequate accommodations; living in emergency or transitional shelters; abandoned in hospitals; awaiting foster care placement; primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping accommodation; and living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations, or similar settings.”
These children and youth, who have been displaced by the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, qualify under the McKinney-Vento Act. Given the extraordinary events of this past week and the extenuating circumstances, which include the lack of communications with local schools and the inability to access school or immunization records, Arkansas schools should respond to this crisis in the following manner:
* Students should be enrolled promptly if not immediately;
* students should be placed appropriately according to verbal information from family and student;
* students should be identified as homeless on the Arkansas Public School Computer Network (APSCN) system, and
* students will automatically qualify to receive school meals.
These students are eligible for services such as transportation, compensatory education, special education, bilingual education or any other programs offered by the local school district to other students, including preschool services. According to 20 USC 6313 of the No Child Left Behind Act – Section 1113(C)(3)(A), Title I has a special responsibility to provide support services to students in both Title I and non-Title I schools. The set-aside Title I funds can serve homeless students in non-Title I schools. If schools, whether Title I or non-Title I, receive students displaced by Hurricane Katrina and are in need of additional support services, the level of set-aside funds may need to be reviewed.
With regard to residence requirements for purposes of enrolling and attending a school district, please be advised that displaced students from Louisiana, Mississippi or Alabama now residing within an Arkansas school district as a result of the devastation of Hurricane Katrina are considered to reside within the area school district for a primary purpose other than that of school attendance. Therefore, the student is entitled to enroll as a resident of the school district pursuant to Ark. Code Ann. §6-18-202. The Arkansas Department of Education is coordinating services with other state agencies, as well as the local education agencies (LEA) to provide needed services to the children and youth displaced by this catastrophic event.
Schools needing assistance or more information may contact Susan Underwood at 501-682-4847 or email@example.com in the Office of Education for Homeless Children and Youth at the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE). Each school district has a designated LEA Homeless Education Liaison to provide local information and guidance. The ADE is requesting the LEAs to submit the attached form to help coordinate the information and services for these displaced students.
All Arkansas educators join in offering best wishes to neighboring states impacted by this tragic event and pledging to work together to provide educational services to the students involved.