In the wake of one of the most destructive hurricane seasons in recent memory, on Oct. 11, the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) sent a memo to superintendents, and charter school and Renaissance school leaders, describing the proper procedures for enrolling students displaced by hurricanes.

“Natural disasters throughout the nation, such as recent hurricanes, often lead to an increase in the number of displaced families seeking shelter in New Jersey,” said Peggy McDonald, acting assistant commissioner, in the memo. “Students who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence are considered homeless and are eligible for services, pursuant to the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.”

The NJDOE clarified that since the recent hurricanes occurred outside of New Jersey, and the displaced students do not have an in-state district of origin, the state assumes financial responsibility for tuition and pays the tuition to the school district in which the child is currently enrolled until the parent establishes a permanent residence or is deemed domiciled in another jurisdiction.

Enrollment Procedures Under the law, districts must enroll displaced students immediately even if they do not have any school records. Districts are also responsible for translating the school records if the records are in another language.

If school records can’t be readily obtained, the enrolling district must seek input from the parent or guardian and, based on those discussions and any evaluative information available, place the student in classes in the grade that is consistent with the student’s biological age.

For students with disabilities, the child study team must immediately consult with the student’s parent or guardian, and conduct a review of available evaluation information and the student’s current Individualized Education Plan (IEP) to provide a program comparable to what the student had been receiving. Within 30 days of the transfer, the district must conduct any needed evaluations and develop a new IEP.

NJDOE reminded districts that, under McKinney-Vento and New Jersey law, students experiencing homelessness are not required to present residency affidavits to enroll in school. Although districts are not precluded from verifying a student’s homelessness status and residence in the district, the student must remain enrolled pending resolution of any dispute.

Immunization Records Under state regulations, out-of-state and out-of-country students may be admitted temporarily for up to 30 days if acceptable evidence of vaccination is not available. After 30 days, if no documentation of previous vaccination is provided, the child may not attend school until one dose of all age- appropriate required vaccines is received. The child may then be provisionally admitted, but must be on schedule to receive subsequent doses as rapidly as medically feasible.

Students are also required to have an entry medical exam; if a student does not have a medical home, the school district must provide the entry medical examination at the school physician’s office or other facility.

The full text of the memo is online here. Questions should be directed to the executive county superintendent, or to Danielle Anderson, state coordinator, Education of Homeless Children and Youth Programs, at (609) 984-4974 or via email.