Homeless students in SPASD 2018-21

The number of homeless students in the Sun Prairie Area School District has increased since the 2018-19 school year — from 131 to almost 200 during the 202-21 school year — according to this chart provided to the Sun Prairie School Board on Monday, Nov. 8.

The Sun Prairie Area School District had 198 students identified as homeless during the 2020-21 school year — and that number reflects an increase from the 2019-20 school year, when 150 students were considered homeless.

That’s according to Catherine Reierson, the McKinney Vento Grant Coordinator for the Sun Prairie Area School District, who made remarks to the Sun Prairie School Board on Monday, Nov. 8.

Reierson’s position is paid for by the McKinney Vento Homelessness Assistance Act, a federal law reauthorized in 2015 that outlines requirements for school districts in service student populations experiencing homelessness.

Under McKinney Vento, students have the right to:

• Attend school, no matter where they live or how long they have lived there.

• Continue in the school they attended before they lost their housing.

• Receive comparable transportation to and from school.

• Attend a school and participate in school programs with housed children. (e.g. sports, clubs, afterschool programs).

All McKinney Vento students receive enrollment support; regular classroom placement in grades 4K-12; breakfast and lunch programs; comparable transportation; school supplies; transportation to school-related events, activities, and meetings as well as waived school fees for field trips, sports, etc.

As McKinney Vento Coordinator, it is Reversion’s job to educate staff and community members about homelessness; collect and analyze student data; assist families with enrollment; coordinate school transportation; find and conduct resource referrals and communicate with homeless service providers.

What is a homeless student?

In her screencast (find it with the online version of this story at sunprairiestar.com), Reierson said homeless students are those who lack a regular, fixed, adequate nighttime residence, which may include students who are:

• Living in a shelter or transitional housing or a hotel/motel;

• Staying with others due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason; or

• Unsheltered.

Reierson reported that a variety of factors contribute to student homelessness, including not enough affordable housing, evictions or poor credit history, job loss or low wages, mental health challenges, natural disaster, incarceration, loss of a caregiver and even structural racism.

“My children got in trouble with police issues. Had nothing to do with the residence and I lost my place for that. I lost my Section 8 [housing voucher] for that,” said Tehesha, a mother of two, in “Not Homeless Enough,”by Diane Nilan available on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZkQBSsqEcGk.

According to Reierson, 65% of Sun Prairie Area School District students in transition are Black or African-American — compared to 10% of the general population.

Of the students reported homeless and reporting their nighttime residence in the SPASD during the 2020-21 school year, 66.2% are doubled up, 15.4% are in hotels or motels; and 15.4% are in shelters or transitional housing, with a small percentage (not recorded) as unsheltered or not applicable.

When asked what her role is, Reierson told board members that most of the homeless assistance begins with school social workers.

“A big part of what I do is coordinating with our school social workers,” Reierson said, adding that the coordination is to make sure the needs of homeless kids needs are met.

In response to a question from Board Clerk Carol Albright, Reierson said that the first step in reporting homeless students usually begins with the school social workers.

Board members: Public doesn’t realize numbers

Sun Prairie Student School Board member Carson Schmoldt said he knew the students were in the district, but had no idea of the number.

Board Governance Officer Tom Weber agreed with Schmoldt. He said the homeless student population is information people in the community should probably learn and understand.

Weber said the SPASD has worked with the city on the homeless issue somewhat, but did not offer any specifics. The City of Sun Prairie is in the midst of a housing study that is likely to recommend more affordable housing options in the city.

“I think sometimes folks in our community need to wake up a little bit,” Weber said, “and learn what is going on.”

Reierson’s position is funded through a three-year grant, after which the district reapplies for the funding for the position.

Sun Prairie School Board President Steve Schroeder asked if there has been any surveying of students or families to determine their level of satisfaction with the services provided by the district.

Reierson said no, but she is looking at ways to expand feedback because homeless students and families may not respond to district surveys or have the time to complete the survey. She said most homeless students have poorer attendance, are more likely to be chronically absent, with an 80% attendance versus other students who attend at a 90% in general.

The position and the grant is focused on narrowing the student performance gap between homeless and non-homeless students, as well as beefing up academic performance of those students, according to Reierson.

Schroeder asked about the average length of time a student is identified as homeless in the SPASD. Reierson replied that once a student has been identified as homeless, services are provided throughout the school year — even after the student’s family has located permanent housing.

Reierson said she works regularly with Sun Prairie Community Schools, attends Sun Prairie Community Schools site coordinator meetings and meets with Sun Prairie Community Schools Coordinator Jamie Racine regularly.

In closing, Schroeder said he agreed with Weber that the Sun Prairie community doesn’t realizes there are almost 200 students considered homeless.

“Thank you,” Schroeder said to Reierson, “for the work that you do.”

Contact Reierson, the SPASD McKinney Vento Coordinator, via email at cmreier@sunprairieschools.org or by phone at 608-444-4263.

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