By Karin Eagle
Native Sun News Staff Writer
RAPID CITY— Despite the definition set forth by the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act of 2002, "homeless children and youth" are more than what the term suggests.
"I disagree with that term because it doesn't truly represent the situation that many of our students in the school district face every day," says Anita Deranleau, who is the Rapid City Area Schools Homeless Coordinator.
In working around the terminology that often has a negative stigma attached to it, Deranleau makes contact with families that lack a fixed or regular residence with children in the school district.
Children and youths who are sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason; are living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camping grounds due to the lack of alternative adequate accommodations; are living in emergency or transitional shelters fall within the qualifications of "Families in Temporary Housing".
Families who qualify are entitled to certain rights or protections under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act of 2001.
Those students have the right to continue to attend school no matter where they live or how long they have lived there. Those families are ensured the same access to the same public education provided to other students.
Qualified students are ensured the right to attend the same school they were at before they became qualified if they choose to, and if it is feasible. Deranleau and her paraprofessionals working for McKinney Vento are set up to assist those families if they need to appeal any decisions made regarding the choice of school if it goes against their wishes.
Families are also entitled, under the law, to receive assistance in transporting their students to their schools if they so qualify under certain location criteria.
Students cannot be separated from the regular school program because they are homeless and can be enrolled in school without having to give a permanent address. Schools cannot require proof of residency that might prevent or delay school enrollment.
Some of the McKinney-Vento Liaisons duties include ensuring that homeless students enroll in, and have a full and equal opportunity to succeed in school. They also work to make sure that homeless families, children, and youth receive educational services for which they are eligible, including Head Start, Even Start, and preschool programs, and referrals to health, mental health, dental, and other appropriate services.
Liaisons assist children and youth who do not have immunizations or medical records to obtain the necessary records or immunizations and ensure that parents or guardians are informed of educational and related opportunities that are available to their children and are provided meaningful opportunities to participate in their children's education.
Part of their community outreach includes keeping families informed of school personnel service providers, and advocates who work with homeless families of the duties of the liaison.
They also collaborate and coordinate with state coordinators, community service providers, and school personnel responsible for the provision of education and related services to homeless children and youth.
Unaccompanied youth are assisted in placement and enrollment decisions, including considering the youth's wishes in those decisions and providing notice to the youth of the right to appeal such decisions under the enrollment dispute provisions.
The liaisons work towards making certain that unaccompanied youth are immediately enrolled in school pending resolution of disputes that might arise over school enrollment and placement.
One of the most important roles that Deranleau sees in her position is seeing to the professional development for school district staff to build awareness of the educational needs of homeless students, legal responsibilities of the school, and local policies and procedures.
"Just because "culturally" it's okay for several Native families to live in one residence," explained Deranleau," which is most often the case here in Rapid City, it doesn't mean that it's the desired outcome for any family."
Deranleau has taken on the responsibility of educating herself on the cultures that she works with in Rapid City. Not all of the families she assists are Native American, but in the schools where she is most present, mainly in North Rapid, many are. She has taken several Lakota culture classes in an attempt to have a better understanding of where she can make the most impact.
"We need to make sure that the schools understand what the students are coming out of, their home situations," said Deranleau.
For more information on the assistance for families through the McKinney Vento program, and to fully understand the rights afforded those who qualify, call Deranleau at General Beadle Elementary School where her office is located at (605) 394-1841.
To read the full text of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education law visit www.doe.sd.gov/oess/TitleXpartC.aspx, or call the South Dakota Dept. of Education at (605) 773-6400.
(Contact Karin Eagle at [email protected])
-Copyright permission Native Sun News