The public schools in Sarasota County, Florida, continue to see an increase in their population of homeless students, particularly since Hurricane Ian hit the region last September and displaced many of the district’s families.
The 44,000-student district’s population of homeless students grew by almost 40 percent in a year, from 749 students at the end of last school year to 1,048 as of May 2023.
Students experiencing homelessness have poorer attendance and are twice as likely to have special education needs than their non-homeless peers, according to Ellen McLaughlin, the director of Schoolhouse Link, a partnership between Sarasota County Schools and the Safe Children Coalition. Within the county they also score 20 percent lower on state testing after being homeless for just one year, she said.
Under the federal McKinney-Vento Act of 1987, students experiencing homelessness have the right to remain in their original public school, and are provided a host of accommodations meant to make it possible for them to keep attending, from transportation to food to temporary housing.
Education Week followed one family displaced after Hurricane Ian destroyed their home last fall as they moved between hotel rooms, Airbnb’s, and the homes of friends and family members before they eventually were able to move into a FEMA trailer on their property. The lack of consistency made school difficult for the family’s two school-age girls, ages 9 and 16, but McLaughlin was able to meet some of their most immediate needs because of funding provided under the federal legislation.
Here, Education Week offers a look at how that support helped this Florida family.