Designated school employees can approve medical treatments for students who are homeless and unaccompanied, educators learned during a presentation at a conference that ended Friday.
Act 690 of 2019 adds homeless liaisons to the list of people who can give consent for doctor-recommended procedures for homeless students who are not with a parent or legal guardian.
About 142 school district employees from around the state discussed the change and other issues related to homeless students at the McKinney-Vento conference in North Little Rock on Thursday and Friday.
The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 1987 provides federal dollars for homeless-service programs and outlines requirements for educating homeless students.
Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, sponsored the new Arkansas law, which took effect as soon as Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed it. An outside group brought the issue to her attention, she said, and she worked on it with the Arkansas Department of Education.
But the issue was one she was aware of previously because she's known of children staying with coaches, church members or neighbors rather than their parents, she added.
"It was really one of the greatest things that I've been able to work on this session," she said in an interview Friday. "We don't think that there are homeless minors, but there are."
At the end of the 2018-19 school year, there were 13,808 homeless students, or 2.89% of the state's overall student population, according to data from the Education Department.
Dana Davis, the public-school program adviser for the Education Department, explained Act 690 to conference attendees and said it would make it easier to get mental-health services for these students.
"Normally in the past, we've had to fight our way through to get these kids the services they needed," Davis told attendees Thursday. "I thought this was just fantastic."
Bobbie Riggins, the homelessness liaison for the North Little Rock School District since 1997, said that before the conference she knew a only little bit about the law but added that it would eliminate problems she's encountered in the past in trying to get care for unaccompanied children.
"It's a must. We need that," Riggins said.
For schools like those in the Smackover-Norphlet School District, the legislation will be especially helpful, district liaison Teri Philyaw said.
Philyaw, who has been the homeless liasion for 21 years, said her school has a health center that can provide mental-health counseling as well as medical care.
Getting children who don't have regular housing into proper medical care helps increase their attendance, she said.
Last year's conference included discussion on how to improve attendance of homeless students.
"It's huge," Philyaw said of Act 690. "It takes away another barrier. You take away a barrier, you've helped a child."
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Print Headline: Homeless students topic of North Little Rock forum