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Danedri Thompson
[email protected]
The number of American students who are homeless has increased significantly – 58 percent – in the last five years, according to the U.S. Department of Education. It’s an area in which the Gardner-Edgerton and Spring Hill School Districts are, sadly, on trend.
Tom Lawson, director of special services for USD 230, said there are 45 homeless kids in 25 families in the Spring Hill School District.
The numbers are lower than they were a few years ago.
“The peak was around 2009-2010 after the economic recession,” Lawson said.
The number of homeless students in the Gardner-Edgerton district topped out in the 2011-2012 school year. That year, the district reported 123 homeless students. The numbers have fallen over the last three years. This year, the district reported 67 homeless students.
A federal law, known as McKinney-Vento, requires school districts to report the number of homeless students.
“Instead of ‘homelesseness,’ we refer to it as ‘McKinny-Vento’ students,” Judy Martin, director of special services for the Gardner Edgerton School District, said.
“Homeless” isn’t really an accurate term for all of the students. The federal law says districts must count students who share housing with other persons.
“Couch surfing,” Lawson said. “It could be (students) are doubled up in a home because of an economic situation or staying with friends.”
The district counts encompass students living in motels or transitional shelters, or those awaiting foster care placement.
Martin said the majority of the McKinney-Vento students in USD 231 are doubled up.
“That’s when they’re sleeping on a couch or they’re sleeping at the home of another family member or friend,” Martin said.
School officials count students through enrollment forms.
Lawson said all secretaries and office aides have been trained to ask certain questions about where and who students are living with.
“It’s all part of the enrollment, and if they answer (the questions) a certain way, it triggers a certain form,” he said. And then, the district can assist in finding services. The federal law attempts to remove the barriers that homelessness may create for students.
Through the act, schools provide free tuition, free meals and free text book rentals to homeless students. Local districts track homelessness and those numbers are reported to the state. Districts can also direct families to a variety of services.
Before the economic recession, the largest numbers of homeless students were high school students. Now, the majority of homeless local students are at the elementary level.
Martin said the downturn was probably responsible for that change.
“Parents lost their jobs and have difficulty obtaining another one,” Martin said. “They get evicted from their homes and don’t have anywhere else to go, so they move in with family members.”