Public schools have a special responsibility to provide immediate access, services, and support to students experiencing housing instability. A homeless student is allowed to immediately enroll in one of the following 3 school options:
- The school the student last attended (often referred to as the student’s “school of origin”);
- The school attended when the student was last permanently housed (also the student’s “school of origin”); or
- The school that non-homeless children who live in the same attendance area are eligible to attend (often referred to as the “attendance area school”).
Sometimes a homeless student can be entitled to attend the district both as a homeless student and as a resident of the district. Homeless students don’t have to be residing in the district to attend their school of origin. If a homeless student decides to attend their school of origin, they are entitled to receive transportation services to and from school and to school-related activities.
Schools must allow a student experiencing homelessness to enroll in school right away, even without the records or documents normally needed for school enrollment (e.g. birth certificates, school transcripts, immunization records). The school should immediately contact the previous school to obtain school records. The school may ask for an address or phone number in order to reach you. The school must also provide the child with low-cost or free medical referrals to get any necessary immunizations or physicals.
Homeless students are those who lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence, including students in the following circumstances:
- Sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason
- Living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camping grounds
- Living in an emergency or transitional shelter
- Living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations, or similar settings
- Living in a primary nighttime residence not designed for or ordinarily used as regular sleeping accommodations for human beings (i.e. a storage unit)
- Abandoned in hospitals
- Migratory children who live in any of the above circumstances
If you are going to enroll your child in a new school, it is helpful to bring a letter from the shelter on the shelter's letterhead, saying that your child is staying there. If you are staying with relatives or in a motel, bring a letter from your relative or social worker stating where you and your child are living. But remember, no school can refuse to admit your child because you do not have these letters.
Unaccompanied youth or students (children and youth) not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian, do not need an adult to enroll themselves in school.
Every school district has a designated homeless liaison. This staff person works with families experiencing homelessness. You can always contact this person if you feel that you are not getting the help that you need.
You can find the complete rules for homeless students by reading the Policy of the Illinois State Board of Education on the Education of Homeless Children and Youth.
School districts are required by law to remove barriers to enrollment, attendance, retention and success for children experiencing homelessness. These rights also apply to preschool age children.