By TRAVIS MORSE
---- — MT. VERNON — District 80 Schools currently have a total of 289 students that meet the federal definition of homeless, which is a slight increase compared to last school year.
The 289 figure is for the 2013-2014 school year, as of mid-March. The number will likely increase as the year progresses and new students transfer into the district.
School officials, however, say the federal definition of homeless does not just include families in extreme poverty who are living in their vehicles or on the streets.
The definition also takes into account those who are “sharing the housing of other persons” or living in motels, hotels, trailer parks or shelters. The definition being used is known as the “McKinney-Vento” definition of homeless.
By that definition, a person who moves in with a relative would be considered homeless.
“So for example, like if my sister and I live together in a house to save money on rent, that would make one of us homeless,” said Assistant Superintendent Aletta Lawrence.
The District 80 Board of Education discussed the district’s homeless data at its regular board meeting Wednesday night.
At that time, district homeless liaison Jodi Cooper delivered her annual special education report, which includes information on homeless students. Cooper is also the district’s special education coordinator.
Last year, Cooper made her report on an earlier date in the school year — Feb. 13, 2013. At that time, the district had 263 homeless students for 2012-2013.
Of the 289 homeless students for the current school year, the majority, 112, are students at the Primary Center.
As for the remaining students, 82 attend Casey Middle School, 65 are students at the Dr. Andy Hall Early Childhood Center and 30 attend the J.L. Buford Intermediate Education Center.
Cooper said the small increase this year is not a cause for alarm since it’s normal for the district to have slight variations in the number of homeless students from year to year.
“We are pretty much about the same every year,” Cooper said. “I don’t feel like there’s ever a big jump.”
Even so, district officials closely monitor the homeless statistics since there are a lot of students who lack “adequate living conditions,” Cooper said.
Lawrence said the district did see an increase in homeless students when the U.S. economy went bad in 2008.
She added that the New Life Family Shelter, operated by Lifeboat Alliance, does a great job helping local homeless families find more permanent housing.
Cooper said District 80 has access to federal grant funding to provide homeless students with clothing, hygiene supplies, food, transportation and other needed items.
This funding comes from a portion of the district’s Title I grant, as well as money provided through the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.
Other District 80 Board actions Wednesday included:
n Approval of the hiring of Gena Capps as head coach for the girls softball team at Casey Middle School, and Tosha Ellis as an assistant coach for that team.
n Approval of the resignations of Jeff Smith as a cook helper at the district’s Central Kitchen, Carleka Spann as the dance team head sponsor and Sara Wiggins as an assistant dance team sponsor. The district is currently seeking applicants for these three openings.
n Approval of the transfer of individual aide Joyce Damron from the J.L. Buford Intermediate Education Center to the Dr. Andy Hall Early Childhood Center.