Oak Park District 97 reported in early August that 200 families have not responded to residency “re-verification,” begun in April, putting their children at risk of not being re-enrolled in school this fall.

This summer, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) worked with the Illinois State Board of Education to ensure that District 97 and other school districts correct their enrollment materials to accurately state school residency requirements, drop unlawful restrictions on families and, most particularly, properly serve homeless families.

Simple but critical points to remember:

As proof of residency, school registrars should accept any two documents that tend to establish that a family lives within the district. If a child is actually living with persons other than his parents, those other adults are entitled to enroll the child. Proof of residency cannot be required of students who are homeless (i.e. live in shelters, transitional programs, cars, parks, abandoned buildings or double-up with others due to hardship). For homeless families, enrollment must be immediate, with the school assisting in acquiring records afterwards.

Districts cannot force families to enroll on particular dates or be excluded from school. When they show up, they should be enrolled, though advance enrollment can be very helpful to the student and school.

Homeless students have the right to return to their previous school (or the school they were last enrolled in when permanently housed) and receive transportation to do so, even if the school is in another district.

Legal guardianship is not required to enroll a child in school. Homeless youth can enroll without an adult and must be given assistance by the district’s homeless liaison.

School records are confidential and districts cannot lawfully call landlords and others asking about whether students are living in their units. Also, affidavits can be sufficient to establish residency, and the Illinois State Board of Education has a form available online that can be completed to do this.

Public schools must waive fees for all low-income families who cannot afford them. Students eligible for free breakfast and lunch are entitled to fee waivers. No fees can be lawfully required of homeless students if it prevents participation in any program of the school, including sports.

Laurene Heybach
Law Project director
Chicago Coalition for the Homeless 

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