UIL sample letter - The Charles A. Dana Center

Homeless students’ participation in varsity athletics: Leveling the playing field
Public schools in Texas served over 95,000 homeless students in the 2011-2012 school year.
In my school district, we are currently serving XX at the high school level.1 We have found
that extra-curricular activities are extremely important for students experiencing
homelessness. Sports and clubs nurture youth’s self-esteem and teach them critical skills and
values such as teamwork, leadership, goal-setting, commitment and respect. Extra-curricular
activities, and varsity sports in particular, often open doors to college admission and
scholarships. They offer a surrogate family for youth estranged from their parents. For
students who lose their housing, extra-curricular activities offer an oasis of stability,
predictability and pride in the midst of chaos of homelessness.
Unfortunately, homelessness poses many challenges to a student’s ability to participate in
sports and other extra-curricular activities. One of the most common is related to mobility.
As homelessness forces students to move from one temporary living situation to another, the
student may be unable to meet the residency requirements for varsity sports:
The McKinney-Vento Act allows a student who is homeless to remain in the same
school, even if homelessness forces her into temporary housing outside district lines.
However, as the student is no longer technically a district resident, if she has not attended the
school for twelve consecutive months prior to moving, she will lose her eligibility for varsity
Alternately, a student who loses his housing may be forced to move into a shelter or
other temporary housing far from his school, requiring him to enroll in a new school in the
While most students experience homelessness along with their families, many others are
homeless on their own. These young people have run away from home or been forced to leave
their homes due to severe dysfunction in their families, including circumstances that put their
safety and well-being at risk. Due to their circumstances, fewer than half are considered to have a
realistic prospect of family reunification. Toro, P., et al. (2007). “Homeless Youth in the United
States: Recent Research Findings and Intervention Approaches.” Toward Understanding
Homelessness: The 2007 National Symposium on Homelessness Research. Washington, DC:
U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services. Physical and sexual abuse in the home is common, as
studies of unaccompanied homeless youth have found that 20 to 50% were sexually abused in
their homes, while 40 to 60% were physically abused. Robertson, M. & Toro, P. (1999).
“Homeless Youth: Research, Intervention, and Policy.” Practical Lessons: The 1998 National
Symposium on Homelessness Research. Washington DC: U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban
Development. See also MacLean, M.G., Embry, L.E. & Cauce, A.M. (1999). “Homeless
Adolescents’ Paths to Separation from Family: Comparison of Family Characteristics,
Psychological Adjustment, and Victimization.” Journal of Community Psychology, 27(2), 179187. Parental drug use or alcoholism and conflicts with stepparents or partners also provoke
youth to run away from home. Toro (2007). Over two-thirds of callers to Runaway Hotline report
that at least one of their parents abuses drugs or alcohol. In a survey of unaccompanied homeless
youth in California, over half felt that being homeless was as safe as or safer than being at home.
Bernstein, N. & Foster, L.K. (2008). Voices from the Street: A Survey of Homeless Youth by Their
Peers. Sacramento, CA: California Research Bureau.
middle of a sport’s season. This student will not be eligible for varsity sports in the new
Participation requirements that work well to limit unfair competition in ordinary
circumstances do not address the reality of homelessness and add to homeless students’ list
of losses: home, school, and the varsity athletic team that allowed them to shine. Ultimately,
these requirements may cause youth to lose opportunities for higher education or even to
drop out of school. The waiver process is too complex and time-consuming to be useful to
these students who are in crisis.
The McKinney-Vento Act requires state athletic associations and school districts to eliminate
these barriers to homeless students’ full participation in school activities. The Act requires
children and youth experiencing homeless to be enrolled in school immediately.2 It defines
“enroll” as “attending classes and participating fully in school activities.”3 Therefore, the
law clearly requires that students experiencing homelessness be allowed to participate fully
in school athletics and other extra-curricular activities immediately.4
Several states have taken steps to ensure homeless students’ ability to participate fully in
school activities.5 For example, the state school athletics associations of Delaware and
Virginia revised their rules to exempt students experiencing homelessness from residency
and attendance policies that create barriers to their participation. Virginia’s rule states:
“Students who qualify under the McKinney Vento Homeless Education Act are eligible
provided the school has on file all required documentation substantiating the student's status
and provided the student is eligible in all other respects.” Rule 28A-7-2(15). Delaware’s rules
state: “A student who is homeless as defined in the McKinney-Vento Act, 42 U.S.C.
11434a(2) shall be eligible to participate at the public school in which he/she is enrolled.”
Rule; See also Rule
As the superintendent of XX ISD, I urge the UIL to pass a new eligibility rule exempting
homeless students from residency requirements. Policies to ensure fairness, equity and safety
are extremely important. Yet, students who lose their housing should not have to lose their
varsity athletic participation as well. Every district in the state has a McKinney-Vento
homeless liaison legally required to identify students who are homeless. Liaisons can access
42 U.S.C. §11432(g)(3)(C).
42 U.S.C. §11434A.
To ensure that homeless students are allowed to participate fully in school activities
immediately, the McKinney-Vento Act further requires states and school districts to eliminate
barriers to the enrollment and retention in school of students experiencing homelessness. 42
U.S.C. §§11432(g)(1)(I), 11432(g)(7). The Act does not prevent schools from requiring homeless
students to meet skill level requirements for a particular sports team, club or other activity.
In some states attorneys also have brought cases to ensure homeless students can participate in
activities. The Superintendent of Public Instruction of Oregon upheld a homeless student’s appeal
of a finding of ineligibility to participate in choir and track. An unaccompanied homeless student
won the right to play basketball in a federal court case in the state of Washington in 2007. In both
cases, the students ultimately won college scholarships based on their extra-curricular activities.
the training and support they need to apply the law and weed out potential fraud.6 Our
liaisons will catch any students pretending to be homeless in order to play on a particular
I urge you to support a new UIL rule on varsity athletics to establish a clear exception to the
residency requirement for students whose McKinney-Vento homeless liaison has
documented as homeless. I would note that Texas state law already establishes such an
exemption for students in foster care.7 Homeless students face the same or greater
vulnerability and residential instability and deserve the same recognition.
Thank you,
The Act requires every school district to have a homeless liaison. 42 U.S.C. §11432(g)(6)(A).
Among other responsibilities, the liaison must determine which students in the district are
homeless under the Act. Accurate identification is accomplished through a variety of
mechanisms, including using enrollment forms designed to elicit information about homelessness,
interviewing parents and youth, conducting home visits when indicated, speaking with staff at
prior schools, etc. If a liaison determines that a student claiming to be homelessness does not in
fact meet the definition of homeless, the liaison may take appropriate steps to prosecute the
family for fraud, consistent with local and state policy.
Texas Education Code §25.001(f).