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Post date: March 3 2015

A.G. Schneiderman Secures Agreement With Hempstead Union Free School District To Ensure Equal Educational Opportunities For Students Regardless Of Immigration Status

Agreement Removes Barriers Impacting Unaccompanied Minors And Other Undocumented Youth Seeking To Enroll In The District

District Will Be Required To Appoint A Special Monitor And Provide Academic Services To Students Who Have Been Unable To Enroll This School Year

Schneiderman: We Will Continue To Work With School Districts Statewide To Ensure That Every Child Is Treated Equally

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced an agreement with the Hempstead Union Free School District to ensure educational access for students regardless of their immigration status. Among other things, the district agreed to retain an ombudsman who will provide new internal oversight over enrollment policies within the district, to retain an independent monitor to ensure that the district enrolls students in compliance with the law, and to offer compensatory educational services to students who experienced enrollment delays for the 2014-15 school year.

“Education is the bedrock of our American democracy, and every child in our nation – no matter where they were born – deserves the chance to attend school,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “I am pleased that Hempstead School District has agreed to come into compliance with the law and that it will also provide additional services to any student who was, until now, unable to enroll in their local school. We will continue to work with school districts statewide to ensure that every child is treated equally and has full access to the tools needed to become productive members of society.”

In October 2014, the Attorney General received complaints from community members and information detailing the situation of approximately 33 Hispanic students – many of them recent immigrants – who were instructed by district administrators to sign in for school each day and return home because there were not enough classrooms to accommodate those students. In response, the Attorney General and the New York State Education Department (SED) launched a joint review of enrollment policies and procedures of school districts in Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, and Rockland Counties, including the district – counties that had experienced a significant influx of unaccompanied minors from Central and South America – in order to determine whether those districts were impermissibly discriminating against students or prospective students on the basis of immigration status.

Following the joint review with SED, the Attorney General opened a formal investigation into the district. The investigation found that, beginning in the summer of 2014 and continuing through February 2015, the district denied or delayed the enrollment of dozens of students who sought to enroll, many of whom are unaccompanied minors originating from Central and South America, and many of whom who were not U.S. citizens at the time they sought to enroll. The district delayed the enrollment of these students through a variety of methods, including overly-restrictive policies on proof of immunization, age, and residency – in violation of applicable laws and regulations – as well as regularly telling students and/or their guardians there was simply no room at district schools for them. With respect to the last method, the district maintained a “wait list” of more than sixty students, and as of February 2015 students on the list were still awaiting enrollment with the district.

On February 17, 2015, in response to learning of this wait list, SED issued an order to the district requiring it to, among other things, immediately enroll all students awaiting enrollment and provide monthly affidavits of compliance to SED from the district’s superintendent and board president.

The Attorney General’s investigation confirmed that the district’s policies and actions were inconsistent with the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding in Plyer v. Doe – which held that the U.S. Constitution guarantees equal protection for undocumented children – and was likely to, or could potentially, chill or discourage undocumented students from enrolling in the districts.

The agreement entered into between the Attorney General and the district requires the district to do the following:

  • Modify district enrollment materials and policies to conform to the proof requirements of applicable state law and regulations, including avoiding inquiries into citizenship/immigration status;
  • Develop new enrollment procedures governing the activity of district personnel responsible for enrollment;
  • Develop training materials addressing permissible and impermissible inquiries in the enrollment process, including acceptable forms of proof of age and residency, as well as annual training for relevant district personnel; 
  • Hire or designate a new enrollment ombudsman responsible for enrollment throughout the district;
  • Retain an independent monitor to assure compliance with applicable law and the agreement;
  • Provide compensatory educational services to students who were delayed or denied enrollment for the 2014-15 school year; and 
  • Maintain records of district denials of student enrollment, and regularly report to the Attorney General concerning such denials, until June 2018.

Hempstead Union Free School District joins 20 other school districts across New York State that have entered into agreements with the Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau to ensure that all students are able to enroll in public school regardless of immigration status.

Jason Starr,Nassau County Chapter Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union,said, “Hempstead is becoming an increasingly diverse school district and it’s important that schools are equally open and accessible to all young people regardless of their background or immigration status.  We thank the Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau for its work to promote equal educational opportunity.”

"This is a step in the right direction for the Hempstead Union Free School District," said Lucia Gomez, Executive Director of La Fuente, an advocacy organization working to empower immigrants in the Village of Hempstead. "There is no possible rationale for why anyone would choose to violate a fundamental right under our democracy such as the right to an education. Immigration status cannot be a pretext for providing less of an opportunity for any child. We applaud the Attorney General Schneiderman for his consistent commitment to ensuring equal justice under the law for all New Yorkers."

Mario Russell, director of the Immigrant and Refugee Services Division for Catholic Charities Community Services in New York,said, “So many of the unaccompanied minors in New York are children who have suffered trauma, either in their home countries or en route to the United States. We need to ensure that these young people receive the care they need and, most importantly, ensure that they are enrolled in school. I thank the Attorney General’s Office for taking steps to eliminate one of the most significant barriers that unaccompanied minors face.”

This matter is being handled by Assistant Attorneys General Justin Deabler and Ajay Saini of the Civil Rights Bureau, with the assistance of bureau support staff. The Civil Rights Bureau is led by Bureau Chief Kristen Clarke. The Bureau is part of the Division of Social Justice, which is led by Executive Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice Alvin Bragg.