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Record number of homeless students served by city school system

May 27th, 2013 8:55 am by Rick Wagner

KINGSPORT  — The city school system this school year served an all-time record
number of homeless students, 320 as of Monday.

The 21 percent increase from
2011-12 to 2012-13 continued an upward trend dating back to the 2007-08 school
year and except for one year going back to 2003-04.

The number of homeless
students identified and served in the system since then has more than doubled,
from 151 to 320.

Michele Wilder, coordinator of the Homeless Education
Program, at the May 16 Board of Education work session, said the increase likely
is partly due to the  school system doing a better job over time in identifying
homeless students, as defined by the federal government, and partly due to the
lingering effects of a down economy.

The original presentation had 319
students and 65 siblings from 197 families identified as homeless in the system,
but Wilder added a student to the program Monday.

For 2012-13, the system had
identified and served 320 homeless students and 65 siblings, the later group
mostly pre-school children not enrolled in Kingsport City Schools, Wilder
said.

Statistics show the number of homeless children in the system increased
from 151 in 2003-04 to 158 in 2004-05 and 206 in 2005-06 before doing down to
166 in 2006-07. Wilder said the 2005-06 jump was mostly caused by students
coming into the system from areas hit by Hurricane Katrina.

In 2007-08, the
number jumped to 186, followed by 196 in 2008-09, 203 in 2009-10, 241 in
2010-11, 263 in 2011-12 and 320 the school year that ends Thursday.

The
students are considered homeless as defined by the McKinney–Vento Homeless
Assistance Act. That definition is “lacking a fixed, regular and adequate
nighttime residence.”

The homeless designation includes students who are
“doubled up” with friends and family out of necessity, not choice, as well as
those living in shelters, campgrounds, abandoned buildings, have been thrown out
of their home by a parent or guardian or have run away from home.

By school,
the highest number of homeless students, 57, is at Sevier Middle School,
followed by 50 at Lincoln Elementary, 44 at Jackson Elementary, 43 at
Dobyns-Bennett High and 32 at Roosevelt Elementary.

Washington Elementary has
24, Kennedy Elementary 21, Jefferson Elementary 15, Robinson Middle 13, Johnson
Elementary 12, Cora Cox Academy, an alternative school, four, Adams Elementary
three and the Palmer Center pre-K program two.

As for the primary residences
of homeless students on initial identification, Wilder said 79 percent were
doubled up, 15 percent in motels, 6 percent in shelters and 0 percent in
inadequate housing. However, she said one student living in a campground would
be considered inadequate housing but was not enough to change the 0 percent when
rounding off numbers.

Of the 320, 67.5 percent are from Title 1 schools, and
26 percent are special education students. All homeless students are eligible
for free school meals.

Wilder said the students received various services,
including 116 who got zoning and tuition exemptions. By law, homeless students
can continue attending their school of origin for the remainder of the school
year or for the duration of homelessness, even if they move out of the zone, as
long as it is in the students’ best interest. That meant that 68 got
transportation assistance, either by a bus or with a fuel voucher for
parents.

Other services include tutoring for 11, school supplies for 123,
school meals requests for 129, school enrollment for 20, emergency food for 187,
clothing for 116 and help with obtaining birth certificate sor school records
for 10.

Wilder said much of the clothing came from the not-for-profit New
Clothes for Kids program, which is shutting down because founder and operator
Anissa Lyttle is moving to Florida.

Lyttle said this week it will formally
cease operations at the end of the month. However, Lyttle said some other groups
plan to continue providing clothing for children who need it in Northeast
Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.

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