FJUHSD’s 2023/24 budget includes $5 million of additional student funding from the state’s Local Control Funding Formula due to an increased count of special student populations, including English learners, low-income, and foster youth. The federal and state government acknowledges that educating students under these circumstances requires additional resources for them to experience an equitable learning environment. Students are only counted once while assessing these special designations, but a more exhaustive count over the past four years uncovered a significant increase in these student populations attending FJUHSD.
One of the most underrepresented and hidden student groups is a subset of low-income students who are shelter-challenged or experiencing homelessness. Last year, 218 FJUHSD students were identified as experiencing homelessness. Although more than in previous years, it is still likely an undercount because of the difficulty in identifying and communicating student rights and services to families and students enduring shelter challenges.
Students experiencing these issues are serviced under the federal McKinney Vento Act, which defines a homeless environment for a student as living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, cars, shelters, abandoned in hospitals, finding themselves couch surfing at a friend’s house, or spending night time in any public or abandoned place not defined as human habitation due to an economic loss or hardship. This includes students who are runaways, removed from a home, kicked out by guardians or parents, unaccompanied youth, and children of migratory families living in any situation as defined above.
The law outlines basic student services that any local education agency receiving federal or state funding (including public-funded charter schools) must provide for students experiencing inadequate housing. These students qualify for immediate enrollment in their school, even after enrollment deadlines. Students do not require paperwork, transcripts, immunization records, or proof of residency or guardianship to begin attending school. Students receive full access to school activities, services, and programs they qualify for. Once a school identifies a student experiencing homelessness, they can provide nutrition, transportation, school supplies, and social services to increase stability by augmenting their shelter and basic care needs.
These services apply to all children and youth ages three up to 22 years, including preschool and transitional life skill training for students aged 18-22 with special educational needs. Students experiencing homelessness are vulnerable and, if not supported, spend most of their resources and time maintaining their basic needs of safety, food, and shelter with little or no time to allocate to education. They often experience chronic absenteeism, defined as missing 18 days or more a school year, are three times as likely to not graduate from high school, and often perform lower on state tests.
All publicly funded schools must employ a trained liaison for children experiencing this instability and post this information on easily accessed websites or classrooms. Unfortunately, students frequently find it challenging to share their unstable living circumstances with schools for a myriad of reasons. They may be concerned about safety, documented status, embarrassed about their economic situation, or other reasons.
California Department of Education defines residency information of students experiencing these challenges as confidential educational records covered by FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) laws of privacy. Families or students experiencing homelessness are referred to as in transition, and none of the services, funding, or documentation concerning students experiencing homelessness is considered directory information.
As classified private educational information, it requires a guardian’s written permission before any outside state or federal agency or court-mandated entity may access the student’s information. Teachers and staff are trained to recognize the signs of a child experiencing homelessness with the goal of quickly getting the student supported. These children experience the trauma and instability of being shelter challenged without having much control over their circumstances. Part of the community’s responsibility and long-term prosperity is quickly connecting these children with support so they may focus on learning and becoming competent adults.
At FJUHSD, students experiencing shelter challenges may contact District Community Liaison, Stephany Grigorov, by phone at 714-870-2838 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or Director of Student Support Services, Allen Whitten, by phone at 714-870-2871 or by email email@example.com.