Reporting tool helps Cloquet Schools identify, help homeless students
Haley Kachinske said as many as 51 students are considered homeless in Cloquet, an increase due to the fact officials are able to more accurately identify students and connect them with resources.
CLOQUET — Cloquet School District officials say the increasing number of homeless students in the district is the result of more effective reporting tools, rather than rising numbers of students struggling with homelessness.
As of the beginning of May, Cloquet School District Student Data Information Systems Specialist and Homeless Liaison Haley Kachinske reports that there are 41 students who fall into the category of homeless, down from its peak of 51 over the course of the 2022-2023 school year.
These numbers have always been there; it’s just a matter of identifying the kids.
At the time she was hired in January 2020, Kachinske said there were eight students considered homeless.
While significant, the large increase speaks more to the district’s greater ability to recognize students rather than an actual increase due to other circumstances, according to Kachinske.
“These numbers have always been there; it’s just a matter of identifying the kids. I don’t doubt that we should’ve been at this number all along,” she said. "The thing that I would say would be the reason is we started online registration the year of 2021-2022.”
During the registration process each year, parents or guardians are presented with housing questions, which help identify students who fall into the category of homelessness if the student is deemed to be lacking a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence.
Prior to the 2021-2022 school year, the process was exclusively completed via paper form, which meant many people bypassed the housing questions feeling that the questions did not apply to them specifically, Kachinske said.
In contrast, the online registration includes a yes or no question regarding housing that must be answered in order for families to proceed to the next question.
“That question is now presented to everybody when they’re doing online registration. It’ll specifically say do you meet any of the following housing criteria? And if so, you’re considered homeless,” she explained.
According to data from the Minnesota Department of Education, 9,117 students across the state are considered homeless during the 2022-2023 school year, which accounts for just over 1% of the total public school population.
Since its passage in 2001, the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Improvements Act, along with the amended Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015, have federally protected students who fall under the category of homeless, guaranteeing them the right to receive a free, appropriate public education. The law also requires schools to remove barriers to enrollment, attendance and success for homeless students.
Under the same law, homeless student liaisons must refer students to appropriate external resources, including medical, dental, mental health, housing, substance abuse, and other appropriate services, according to MDE.
The necessary resources can vary from student to student.
“Every case is always different, so I just kind of ask about their situation and then I’ll give them resources, whether it be refer them to Carlton County (or) the youth shelter if they actually don’t have a home or have been displaced; area food shelves, Ruby’s Pantry, Salvation Army, United Way, all of those things,” Kachinske said.
The vast majority (42 of 51) of homeless students within the district fall under the “doubled-up” category, which is defined as the sharing of housing of other persons due to economic hardship, lack of housing or similar reasons, according to MDE's Homeless Data Manual.
Students can fit into multiple categories of homelessness, Kachinske said.
Eighteen of the 51 students are considered unaccompanied youth, which includes students who are identified as homeless according to the McKinney-Vento definition and who are not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian.
Unaccompanied youth tend to be older, usually high school age, Kachinske said.
“So with those kids, sometimes I’m actually talking to the student, and right away I’ll offer resources by talking to the counselor or the social worker," she said.
While rare, Kachinske said additional resources are also made available if the student has become homeless as a result of other circumstances, like abuse or chemical dependency.
“(If) the (reason) they are leaving their home is due to any type of abuse or just not feeling safe obviously we don’t take that very lightly and they’re notified right away at the building level if we need to intervene, and what we need to do to make sure that they feel comfortable,” Kachinske said.
Kachinske credits educators in Cloquet's schools for working with students and making sure their needs are met.
Once Kachinske reaches out to students and their families, she connects them with school counselors and social workers, for example, who take over from there.
"Oftentimes I don’t hear back from the kids. They’re usually pretty well taken care of from each of the buildings, so they're (staff) doing a great job in making sure that all the kids are getting what they need," she said. "So that’s the nice part, too, is that we’re all kind of working as a team."
Carlton and Wrenshall School Districts
According to data from MDE, there are currently five students across all grade levels within the Wrenshall School District that are currently facing homelessness, while neighboring Carlton has none.
Superintendents John Engstrom at Carlton and Kimberly Belcastro at Wrenshall serve as the homeless student liaisons of their respective districts. Both reported that beginning of the year registration, conducted in paper format with housing questions, is their primary resource when it comes to identifying students facing homelessness.
Due to student data privacy, Belcastro could not get into specifics, but said that the number of homeless students is slightly higher than in years past.
Engstrom reported that the district has not seen a shift in its totals compared to previous years.
Attempts to reach the Esko School District's homeless student liaison were unsuccessful. Barnum School officials referred the Cloquet Pine Journal to Carlton County for more information.