Homeless students have rights with regards to their schooling, and everyone should know them. These rights are federally protected.

The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (MVHAA) was the first substantial federal legislation to address homelessness, and it was passed in 1987, under President Reagan. The original act had little to say about children – they weren’t part of the public consciousness about homelessness at the time. But in 2002, the act absorbed an Illinois law to protect the rights of children who lived without a fixed place to sleep at night.

The MVAAA’s protections for children in school are one of its most important facets today, as completing an education is an important but difficult-to-achieve part of escaping generational poverty.

The rights of homeless students are as follows:

Homeless students must have full rights to access the same education as students with a fixed address, at the same schools.

Students enrolled in a school who become homeless must not be required to change schools if at all possible, even if they find shelter outside the school’s district.

School districts must proactively seek out students who seem in need of help, and youths who do not seem to be enrolled in school, and make their families aware of resources available to them. Parents or guardians must also be able to find those resources themselves.

School districts must have a liaison tasked to work with people with unstable housing. Students without housing must be registered for school even if they lack things other students are required to have, such as proof of residence, immunization records, or identity documents.

Homeless students must have access to school transportation services, even if they can’t be picked up the same spot every day.

Homelessness, especially in families, doesn’t always look like we think. They may live in shelters, or in cars, or a tent in the park. But they also could be being bounced from family member to family member while their parents work, or in hotel after hotel, or in over-crowded shared housing. But regardless of the form it takes, children experiencing homelessness have federally protected legal rights to consistency and safety at school.