NYCLU: 12 Long Island School Districts ‘Unlawfully Barring’ Immigrant Students

Undocumented Children
Unaccompanied minor detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection after crossing the US-Mexico border. (Photo credit: Eddie Perez)

A dozen Long Island school districts may be “unlawfully barring the enrollment of immigrant students,” according to a statewide survey conducted by the New York Civil Liberties Union.

In all, approximately 20-percent of school districts in state have been identified by the group as putting up what it called illegal barriers to unaccompanied or undocumented students, possibly creating a chilling effect on such students and attempting to register. The advocacy group also chided the New York State Education Department for failing to enforce its own guidelines, but the agency fired back at the nonprofit advocacy group.

“The New York Civil Liberties Union has never identified a single student who has been denied enrollment based on immigration status,” New York State Education Department spokesman Dennis Tompkins said in a statement. “When the Department received a report regarding Hempstead, we acted swiftly to ensure the students were enrolled. If NYCLU is aware of a case, they should inform us immediately.”

The NYCLU said it conducted the survey of 139 districts across the state after allegations that Hempstead Union Free School District declined enrollment to nearly three-dozen immigrant students. The district reportedly cited already-overcrowded classrooms as its reason for turning away immigrant youth. After advocacy groups publicly condemned the district, school officials set up a so-called “transfer school” in the village for children who were initially turned away.

Tompkins noted that after the NYCLU surveyed districts in 2010, the state department of education issued “comprehensive guidance” to each district in the state making them aware of the law with regard to immigrant students. The agency has not received any complaints about enrollment discrimination since, Tompkins said.

The Nassau County districts identified by the NYCLU in its latest were: East Meadow Union Free School District, Great Neck Union Free School District, Island Trees Union Free School District, Plainedge Union Free School District and Valley Stream 13 Union Free School District.

The Suffolk County districts identified in the report were: Amagansett Union Free School District, Amityville Union Free School District, Bay Shore Union Free School District, Deer Park Union Free School District, Eastport-South Manor Central School District, Mattituck-Cutchogue Union Free School District and Three Village Central School District.

Bay Shore said in a statement that it follows state and federal regulations for students identified as unaccompanied or homeless.

Valley Stream 13 “is well aware of the difficulties faced by immigrant children, particularly unaccompanied minors,” superintendent Dr. Adrienne Robb-Fund said in a statement through a spokeswoman. “We will continue our practice of following federal law regarding school admissions.”

She said the district has never denied admission to children unable to produce a birth certificate or other proof of birth.

The U.S. Supreme Court guaranteed undocumented children the right to a free public education in its 1982 ruling in Plyler v. DOE. The NYCLU alleged that districts break the law when they inquire about immigration status, birth certificates or proof of a child’s age.

According to the NYCLU’s survey, 12 LI districts requested a birth certificate, and three require either a social security card or number. Half of the districts surveyed don’t ask for a child’s immigration status. Information for the remaining half wasn’t available, according to the group.

Last week, the attorney general’s office, state education department and board of regents announced a joint compliance review regarding school district polices for unaccompanied minors and undocumented students.