The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services within the U.S. Department of Education provided guidance to advocates for homeless children earlier this month that states IDEA Part B funds can only be used to transport a homeless child to the school of origin, if attending that school remains in the best interest of the child.
In a letter dated Aug. 5, Melody Musgrove, director of OSERS, advised the National Center for Homeless Education (NCHE) that funds from both IDEA Part B and the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act can be used if a child's IEP team determines transportation to and from the school of origin and between schools is necessary and if the service is in the child's best interest.
Linda Bluth, the quality assurance specialist at the Maryland Department of Education and NAPT past president, told STN that the transportation of a homeless student "year after year after year" to the school of origin fails to meet the Least Restrictive Environment provision under IDEA — despite where the student is currently residing, which can be counties away.
Meanwhile, Musgrove advised that IDEA Part B funds may not be used to provide transportation to the child's school of origin when the IEP team does not require transportation, but McKinney-Vento Act funds can be used.
Musgrove wrote the letter in response to a question raised by Diana Bowman, executive director of the National Center, during a meeting with Department of Education officials that also included members of the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY). Bowman told STN that school districts need the guidance on coordinating between McKinney-Vento and IDEA, such as "in the case of a homeless child with a disability that needs transportation to remain in his/her school of origin in instances where transportation is included or not included in the IEP."
Barbara Duffield, policy director at NAEHCY, added: "Hopefully, the extra clarity will lead to expedited and efficient services for homeless children and youth who have disabilities, and better collaboration between school district homeless programs, special education programs and transportation departments."
Another of Bowman's questions addressed by OSERS related to the circumstances when a homeless child without a disability may ride a "special education" school bus to their school of origin. Musgrove wrote that school districts can use IDEA funds "in cases where an incidental benefit is provided to non-disabled children as a result of special education and related services provided under IDEA to children with disabilities." These funds apply to purchases of new buses or required equipment such as air conditioning.
If use of an IDEA bus by regular-education students is "incidental" then OK, but districts can't knowingly but buses with IDEA money with the expressed intention of using to mainstream the two populations. Still, Musgrove added that local education agencies (LEAs) could consult with their respective state departments of education to determine if Part B funds would be permissible "and whether the benefit conferred on the non-disabled children would be considered an incidental benefit."
Musgrove also advised that LEAs must "to the extent feasible" rely on the wishes of parents or guardians when determining a homeless child's best interest in regard to that child continuing to attend the school of origin or attending another school located closer to the current temporary shelter. These placement decisions should be made annually, on an individual basis and in accordance with the IEP team.
Finally, Musgrove advised that individual states have discretion through their respective regulations in determining which LEA or school district is responsible for providing FAPE, a free and appropriate public education required by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. In the event a student attends a school in another district, any school districts involved in coordinating that student's placement must coordinate with one another to ensure FAPE.