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Displaced students find new schools

With more than 1.8 million people displaced from Hurricane Irma alone, thousands of students had to find new schools, at least on a temporary basis.

While Franklin County didn’t receive any new enrollments from Irma victims, students who are temporarily or permanently displaced have the protection of a federal law known as the McKinney-Vento Act that deals with homeless students.

“When you’ve got more than a million people without electricity or homes, I’d say you’ll probably pick up some students,” Hamilton said. “And that’s a good thing, because if they stay around our county long enough, they may like it and stay.”

The federal law defines a homeless student as “one who lives in temporary shelters and those who use places not designed for sleeping as their regular nighttime residence, such as a car, park, abandoned building, bus, train station, airport or camping ground.”

The law also applies to students who are displaced and forced to stay with relatives or family friends.

More than a dozen families stayed in Russellville motels in the wake of Irma, and they were aided by local churches who provided meals and supplies for them. The families were only in Franklin County a few days before most were able to return home, so they did not enroll their children in local schools.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, several students enrolled in Franklin County schools after their families were forced to leave the Gulf Coast. Many of those families had to wait months before they were able to return home.

According to the federal law, a school district must have a coordinator to make accommodations for displaced or homeless students, and those students must be immediately enrolled, even without the usual requisite paperwork.

“We have a policy in place with funding set aside each year for homeless students,” Hamilton said. “We will enroll them if they come to our county.”

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