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School board addresses homeless issue

by Merrie Leininger, staff writer

In an attempt to be proactive – the school board will be holding the second reading for a homeless student policy at its October meeting.

The district is required to create its own policy following the state school board passing regulations two years ago.

“We had some practices through Title 1, but the Nevada Department of Education asked us to put into place policy and regulations,” said Assistant Superintendent of Education Services Roy Casey. “We are looking to the future so we will be able to help homeless children.”

According to the policy, which was modeled after the state and federal guidelines, the schools will provide homeless children the opportunities to achieve the same high quality of excellent education as all children.

Casey, who, as the assistant superintendent for education services, is the district’s homeless liaison, said each school also has a homeless advocate.

That person will work with any homeless family to welcome the family and enroll the student quickly, even if the family may not immediately have birth certificates, immunization documents or previous school records, which are normally required to register a new student.

Zephyr Cove Elementary School psychologist Rowena Shaw is the homeless advocate for that school.

“They are afforded the same opportunities as a regularly enrolled student and we treat them that way and maybe with a little more lee-way,” Shaw said. “They are allowed to enroll even if they don’t have all the paperwork right away.”

If the school cannot confirm the child’s immunization records, the advocate will help the child get all the shots he or she needs to attend public schools.

Shaw said she deals with about three families in her school district whose students have homes, but are living with more than one family in small apartments.

She also has a few students from two families whose parents move back and forth following seasonal work.

According to the district’s policy, the definition of homeless includes a person who lacks a fixed, regular, adequate nighttime residence; who has a primary nighttime residence in a supervised public or private shelter; or who sleeps in a public or private place not designated for or regularly used for sleeping accommodations, such as cars, parks or motels. Also included are children who are living with friends or relatives out of necessity or children of migrant families.

Shaw said these students may not always have the best conditions for doing homework, getting enough rest or even getting the proper nutrition.

“Of course, the problem is overcrowding and people are always coming and going. There is often not a quiet place available and sometimes sleeping arrangements are difficult. There is sometimes not enough food to feed everyone in the house. There are 60 families Our Lady of Tahoe feeds and most come from my school,” Shaw said.

Shaw said the school also helps out students with food through the free or reduced lunch program and provides warm clothes in winter.

She can’t, however, hand out money to families, so she then has to refer the parents to other programs in the community.

The advocates also make sure the students have transportation to school and work closely with the school nurse and counselor to take care of any physical or mental health care needs.

The homeless advocate also takes a specific interest in the students’ attendance and school work.

Two years ago, Shaw wrote and received a grant from the Homeless Youth Education Program from the State Department of Education. She was able to hire a tutor and aide for seven weeks. They worked in a summer school specifically for needy children in the Boys and Girls Club in Lake Park Apartments.

The homeless policy also encourages the advocate to help the students develop social skills. The homeless children receive fee waivers for any activities, for P.E. clothes or anything else that helps make the child more comfortable at school but may put a burden on the family. The advocate works with the teacher to assimilate the student into the school by matching the student with a “buddy” and encourage socialization with other classmates.