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East Maine District 63 earns accolades for efforts to help homeless students, families

At East Maine School District 63, officials have turned to new state legislation to help ensure that students and their families remain in district, should they become homeless.

At its Jan. 10 school board meeting, District 63 was recognized by the North Cook Intermediate Service Center and Regional Office of Education as the first district in the state to put the change in legislation to use.

Stipulations outlined in an August 2017 amendment to Illinois’ Education for Homeless Children Act, students whose families lose housing don’t have to leave their current public school mid-year, even if they perhaps leave the district in pursuit of emergency shelter several towns away.

Public school districts are allowed, by law, to redirect transportation funds to a local continuum of care nonprofit agency, which allocates the dollars toward housing assistance, rent and security deposits to house students and their families within the district.

“I’m glad we could help some families to get stable housing, so their kids can be close to their schools of origin and stay with their friends, teachers, and familiar faces,” said Shawn Schleizer, associate superintendent for East Maine School District 63. “I think it means a lot to everyone involved that we could help support families in getting stable housing.”

In the past, officials said district 63 worked to help support homeless students and their families in different ways.

“There are some governmental funds we can use to support homeless families by helping with things, like supplies and winter coats,” Schleizer said.

Schleizer said that depictions of homelessness can vary and said sometimes it’s difficult pinpoint when a family is homeless, but “our social workers are good at working with families, understanding their situations, and identifying families in transition, so we can provide some support to them.”

Schleizer gave credit to the district’s social workers for driving the effort to support homeless students and their families.

“They serve as the conduit oftentimes between the families and the continuum of care organizations,” he said. “They’ll help coordinate.”

Officials said the District—with support from the amendment—assisted two families to remain living close to their current schools. Officials said the state provides about $800,000 annually to cover the district’s transportation costs.

There is no differentiated fund to cover expenses for students who are homeless, leave the district and require transportation assistance to remain at their current schools. Officials said the initiative is made possible in partnership between District 63, Niles Family Services and Northwest Compass.

Schleizer said he hopes the law will drive more districts to follow suit in the effort to support homeless students and their families.

“Our mission is provide a high-quality education to children, and part of that is caring for children, building relationships with families, students and teachers, allowing everyone to be a part of the school community,” Schleizer said. “We support local families in different ways. … I think we’ve been fairly successful in supporting not only our homeless families, but the wide range of families that we have in the district.”

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