Is a homeless child allowed to attend school?

Yes. Homeless children in Maine still have the right to a public education.

Do homeless students who are not living with their parents have the right to attend school?

Yes. The law calls these students “unaccompanied youth.” Each school district in Maine must have a someone who is responsible for helping them enroll and succeed in school. This person should help decide where to enroll in school. They should take into account the student's wishes. They should also tell the child about their right to appeal if they disagree with a decision about where they will go to school.

When is a student considered homeless?

A child is homeless if they do not have an adequate, regular place to spend the night.

"Homeless" includes:

  • Living in a public or private shelter,
  • Transitional or temporary housing, including "couch surfing,"
  • Sharing housing with other people because of a loss of housing, financial hardships, or similar reasons,
  • living in a car, a park, an abandoned building, or any other type of substandard housing.

School choice 

A homeless child has the right to stay in the same school that they went to before becoming homeless. A homeless child may also attend any public school that students living in the same area are eligible to attend.

The decision should be based on what's in the child's best interest. Staying in a student's originial school may be the best way to provide consistency and stability. But there may be a reason for the child to attend a new school, such as safety.

How long does it take to enroll a homeless student into school?

They should be admitted immediately, even if the child does not have required documents, such as medical records or proof of residency.

What school services is a homeless student entitled to receive?

The school must offer all services for which the child is eligible, the same as any other student.

For example, if the school offers programs in the following areas, a homeless student must also be offered these programs:

  • Education programs for the disadvantaged
  • Programs for students with disabilities
  • Programs for students with limited English
  • Vocational Education
  • Programs for gifted and talented
  • School meals (without proof of income or other standard paperwork, if these are barriers to access)
  • Before and after school care programs

Do homeless children get transportation to school?

Yes, if the parent or guardian requests it. If a child is not in their parents' custody, the school or state liaison can request this service.

Can a parent's decision about where to send their child be overruled?

Yes. If the superintendent of the school system believes that a parent's enrollment decision is not in the best interest of a child, they may try to get the decision changed.

The superintendent can:

  • Request an informal decision from the Coordinator of Education for Homeless Children and Youth.
    • The Coordinator must try to get the parent and the superintendent to agree on placement within 20 days.
  • If the Coordinator cannot get an agreement, or if the Superintendent decides not to go to the Coordinator, a superintendent may appeal to the Commissioner of Education.

Superintendent appeals to the Commissioner of Education

The superintendent must say which school they believe would best serve your child besthe child if they believe that another school would be better. A parent (or a child's social worker, or the student themselves) must receive notice of the appeal.

The Commissioner may ask the parent/social worker/ student to state their opinion on enrollment in writing. They also may hold a hearing to hear different opinions. If a hearing is held, the parent/social worker/ or student must be told about the hearing and be allowed to attend and present their point of view.

The Commissioner will then decide which school the homeless student will attend. The Commissioner must consider:

  • The child's social, educational, and physical needs;
  • Whether there are any other options for the child; and
  • Other information from school authorities and out-of-school agencies.

Appealing the Commissioner's decision

A Commissioner decision may be appealed to the Superior Court within 30 days of the decision. The Superintendent or any other party involved in the dispute may  appeal.  It is strongly recommended to get legal advice immediately if considering an appeal. If you receive notice of an appeal by another party, get legal advice immediately.

What happens to the child during the appeal process?

The child will remain in the school chosen until the Coordinator or the Commissioner has made a final decision.


More Resources

Maine Department of Education

National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty

Legal Tools to End Youth Homelessness
This booklet is written by The National law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. It is primarily an overview of Federal laws, that is, laws that apply in every state, and phone numbers to national switchboards and hotlines.

Updated April 2017