Published by MoASBO, April 2013
Today, it is not all that uncommon for school districts to encounter a student who has moved into a home in the district to live with someone who is not a parent or guardian. If the student is a minor and does not have a parent, military-issued guardian or court-appointed guardian living in the District, the student is not a resident of the school district under Missouri’s Residency Statute, R.S.Mo.§ 167.020. In such cases, it is necessary for a school district to determine if one of the exceptions to the residency requirement applies which would require the student’s enrollment.
While there are many exceptions to Missouri’s residency requirements, one that has recently become more frequently applicable is the homeless exception. Though a student has a home in which to stay, the student may still be considered homeless. This article will briefly explore the applicability of the homeless exception to students who are living in a home with someone other than a parent or guardian.
The Definition of “Homeless”
Under Missouri’s enrollment statute, a child or youth is considered “homeless” if he/she is less than twenty-one years of age and “lacks a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence, including a child or youth who: (1) Is sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason . . .” R.S. Mo. § 167.020. A nighttime residence is fixed if it is permanent and unchanging. The nighttime residence will be considered regular if it is used on a routine or consistent basis (e.g. nightly) and it is adequate if it is sufficient for meeting both the physical and psychological needs typically met in the home environment.
Questions to Ask to Determine if a Prospective Student is Homeless
With respect to a prospective student who has moved into a home with others, the two primary inquires that a school district must make to determine homelessness are the reason for the student’s current living situation and whether the student’s current living situation is “fixed, regular and adequate.” Specifically, it is important for school district personnel who are responsible for enrollment to sensitively and discreetly inquire into the following: (1) who the student is living with, (2) the student’s relationship to the individuals the student is living with, (3) how often the student will be staying in the current nighttime residence, (4) how long it is anticipated that the student will be staying in the current nighttime residence, (5) why the student moved into his/her current living situation, and (6) whether the student has any legal rights to be in the home or could be asked to leave at any time without legal consequence?
Actions to Take After a Determination is Reached
If a school district determines that the prospective student does meet the threshold requirement to be deemed “homeless” under the law, the student should immediately be enrolled, referred to the District’s homeless coordinator and provided other services as may be required by law. If, on the other hand, a district determines that the prospective student in not in his/her current living situation because of loss of housing, economic hardship or a similar reason and has a “fixed, regular and adequate” nighttime residence, then the district must determine if one of the other exceptions to the residency requirement applies. If no other exception applies then the District should give the prospective student the option of requesting a waiver of the proof of residency requirement.
The inquiries related to determining homelessness and the other exceptions to Missouri’s residency requirement are obviously very fact specific. Thus, while many questions may be part of a written questionnaire, it is likely that some follow-up inquiry will be necessary. As such, it is important for enrollment staff to understand the homeless definition as well as the other exceptions to residency requirement and to consult legal counsel when questions arise.
 Additionally, the residency requirement for enrollment does not apply to students in the following categories: participants in an inter-district transfer program established under a court-ordered desegregation program, students in state/juvenile custody who are placed in in-district residential care facilities, students in a residential care facility due to a mental or developmental disability, students with a disability who are in the district for reasons other than accessing the District’s educational program, students attending a regional or cooperative alternative education program on a contractual basis, students whose parents or guardians reside in an unaccredited district, students with only one parent living, orphaned children, and students whose parents do not contribute to their support.
 The definition also includes any student who is: “(1) . . . living in motels, hotels, or camping grounds due to lack of alternative adequate accommodations; is living in emergency or transitional shelters; is abandoned in hospitals; or is awaiting foster care placement;
(2) Has a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings;
(3) Is living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations, or similar settings; and