Educational Rights and Services
Published: December 4, 2020
By: Gabriela Barros, BCPS Homeless Education Program Specialist
Homelessness among children and youth remains a challenging and extremely disruptive problem faced by many families in Broward County. Unemployment, lack of affordable housing, natural disasters, poverty, domestic violence and the influx of people migrating to Broward County seeking better opportunities, including social services resources, have exacerbated local homelessness. The challenges facing students experiencing homelessness are immense, with significant negative impacts on children and youth academically, socially and emotionally.
Homelessness presents students with barriers that they struggle against every day to stay in school and on track to graduate on time. To persist in school and be successful, these students need a system of supports in place to combat their high school mobility rate, chronic absenteeism, and gaps in graduation rates in comparison with non-homeless students. This includes sound dropout prevention initiatives.
Given the heavy toll homelessness takes on students, the Homeless Education Assistance Resource Team (H.E.A.R.T.) program strives to go above and beyond to advocate for students who are experiencing housing instability. Connections are built with various resources to minimize the educational ramifications these students are prone to experience. The H.E.A.R.T. program is responsible for removing systemic barriers to the education of students experiencing homelessness along with carrying out the provisions of the Subtitle VII-B of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (42.U.S.C.11431 et seq.).
Reauthorized in 2001 under the No Child Left Behind Act, and most recently amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015, this primary piece of the federal legislation is related to the education of children and youth experiencing homelessness. It requires school districts (public and charter) and post-secondary education institutions to ensure that every child and youth has equal access to the same free, appropriate public education, including a public preschool education, as provided to other children and youths. In compliance with this federal legislation under Title IX, Part A, of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act grant, Broward County Public Schools provides additional educational services through the H.E.A.R.T. program to students who lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence.
Devoted to serve as an agent to change lives through education and help displaced students break free from cycles such as deep poverty, the H.E.A.R.T. program’s daily efforts are catered toward removing all barriers to the identification, enrollment, attendance and academic success of children and youth experiencing homelessness while promoting school access, retention, stability and greater educational outcomes.
Committed to adhering to the vision of Broward County Public Schools, “educating today’s students to succeed in tomorrow’s world,” the H.E.A.R.T. program believes in the importance of supplementing services to these students with the intent to narrow the achievement gap between students experiencing homelessness in comparison with non-homeless students.
Through our District’s “Student Housing Questionnaire,” at any point during the school year, families, including caregivers and youth, have the opportunity to disclose relevant information pertaining to their housing status and/or living situation. With this information available, the H.E.A.R.T. program can determine if students meet eligibility criteria for McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act services. According to this federal legislation, qualifying students have the following rights: i. Right to immediate school enrollment even when records are not present at the time of enrollment (30-day grace period to obtain); ii. Right to remain in the school of origin, if in the student’s best interest; iii. Right to receive transportation to and from the school of origin; iv. Right to receive support for academic success.
Fully embracing the “one student, one school, and one school year” mindset, the H.E.A.R.T. program has educational services readily available for qualifying students starting when they are first identified until the remainder of the same school year, even if their episode of homelessness ends before the end of the school year.
The foundation of the H.E.A.R.T. program stands firmly on the belief that every heartbeat matters! Despite their housing status, every student in our district can be well-equipped to reach their highest potential once they are connected to vital resources. Also, this program opens many doors to qualifying students and provides services to promote academic excellence. Education is not only the key to a better life outcome and promising future, but also the pulse of the H.E.A.R.T. program.
For more information, please contact the H.E.A.R.T. office at 754-321-1566 or visit its website at www.browardschools.com/Page/35699.