During a session at the NAPT Annual Summit last week, Transportation Director Pete Meslin of the Newport-Mesa United School District in California presented potential options to help alleviate some challenges tied to transporting homeless students, a requirement under the McKinney-Vento Act.
Meslin started the session “Real World Solutions for McKinney-Vento Challenges” by acknowledging that no one has a definitive answer on how to solve problems that arise when transporting students who may be transient, but emphasized he was there to share ideas that could help student transporters serve these kids in a more cost-effective and efficient manner.
He also explained the crucial role that transportation plays in the education of a homeless student.
“If you can’t get to school because you don’t have food, you don’t have shelter … you’re not going to succeed in life in modern America,” said Meslin.
He added that transporting McKinney-Vento students to school is not only important so that they get an education, but also because school may be the only access they have to meals all day, and recommended being watchful for potential signs of homelessness in a student.
“We see a student who is wearing the same clothes for the fifth day in a row. It doesn’t take a whole lot of thinking to realize either this kid has no parenting or this kid has no other clothes. Either way, maybe the (district’s) homeless liaison should hear about it,” Meslin continued.
He then shared some examples of challenges — and solutions — in transporting these students, including those are residing outside of the district’s regular bus routes. For instance, if a bus driver happened to lived close to where the students were staying, one possible solution was permitting the driver to take the school bus home and pick up the students first thing in the morning before beginning a route. Meslin explained that “park-out” buses are not the best thing from an operational standpoint, yet may solve problems in special cases.
He also noted that transporting homeless students can be a challenge if a district has a limited number of school buses but proposed the solution of using alternative vehicles. While a school bus is the safest way to transport students, Meslin maintained that, under unique circumstances, different modes of transportation, such as vans, may be more effective.
“If (you’re) using a limited number of school buses, then to transport a single student might mean 70 children don’t get a bus. What makes more sense?” he asked.
Meslin listed other possible options, such as public transit if located in a large urban area, as well as parent reimbursement, which he said should be used cautiously.
Additionally, he emphasized the importance of being in communication with a district’s homeless liaison, as Title I, Part A has set aside funds for transporting McKinney-Vento students. However, he stressed that it is crucial to have these conversations at the beginning of the year, as the funds may be used for other purposes if not claimed.