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Post date: February 19 2015

A.G. Schneiderman Secures Agreements With Twenty School Districts To Ensure Equal Educational Opportunities For Students Regardless Of Immigration Status

Agreements Remove Barriers Impacting Unaccompanied Minors And Other Undocumented Youth Seeking To Enroll In Public Schools

Schneiderman: All Students Across New York State Deserve Equal Access To Educational Opportunity

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced agreements with twenty school districts to ensure educational access for students regardless of their immigration status or that of their parents or guardians. The districts agreed to remove inquiries into citizenship/immigration status from their enrollment materials, as well as to develop new enrollment procedures and provide training to responsible personnel to ensure that students do not face such barriers when seeking to enroll. The districts, which span fourteen different counties across the state, include the Amherst, Carthage, Cheektowaga, Cuba Rushford, Dryden, Gates Chili, Greenville, Hilton, Homer, Lyme, Manchester-Shortsville, Penfield, Pittsford, Spencerport, Sullivan West, Vestal, and Williamson Central School Districts; and the Oneida, Port Jervis, and Watertown City School Districts.

“Schoolhouse doors must be open to all students in our diverse state, regardless of their immigration status,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “More than 30 years after the Supreme Court guaranteed a free public education for undocumented children, we must do everything we can to uphold the law and ensure equal access for all our students.”

NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said, " For years districts across New York have erected barriers, impeding access to an education for children based on immigration status.  The agreements achieved by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s Civil Rights Bureau stand as an important step in dismantling those long-standing barriers helping to ensure that immigrant children can make their right to a public education a reality."

Kim Sweet, executive director of the Advocates for Children of New Yorksaid, “Reviewing enrollment policies is painstaking work, but a key step in protecting students’ rights.  We appreciate Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s important work in this area.”

The investigations into the twenty districts arose as a result of a joint review with the New York State Education Department (“Department”), of school district enrollment policies and procedures for unaccompanied minors and other undocumented students. That review initially focused upon four counties in the New York City metropolitan area that have experienced a significant influx of unaccompanied minors from Central and South America and has since expanded to other parts of the state.

Upon receiving reports from advocates that districts beyond this four-county area were making inquiries into students’ and/or their parents’ immigration status as part of their enrollment processes, the Attorney General and the Department expanded the review beyond those four counties.

The Attorney General’s investigation confirmed that each of the twenty districts used enrollment materials and posted enrollment information that included the following kinds of unlawful inquiries:

  • Copies of Social Security cards 
  • Provision of Social Security numbers 
  • Disclosure of visa status 
  • Visa expiration date
  • Status as a green card/passport holder
  • Status as a U.S. citizen/non-citizen

The investigation determined that each of these inquiries was inconsistent with the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding in Plyer v. Doe and was likely to, or could potentially, chill or discourage undocumented students from enrolling in the districts.

In 1982, the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Plyler invalidated a Texas law that had denied state funding to schools to educate undocumented students and had authorized schools to deny enrollment to undocumented students. The Court held that the U.S. Constitution guarantees equal protection under the law for undocumented children and explained that denying undocumented students an education would “deny them the ability to live within the structure of our civic institutions, and foreclose any realistic possibility that they will contribute in even the smallest way to the progress of our Nation.” The decision made clear that the undocumented or non-citizen status of a student (or his or her parent or guardian) is irrelevant to that student's right to an elementary and secondary public education.

Following engagement with each of the districts by the Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau and the Department, the districts agreed to modify their enrollment materials. Specifically, the agreements secured by the Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau will ensure that the districts meet the needs of students and parents, regardless of their immigration status, by requiring the following:

  • Modification of district enrollment materials and policies to eliminate inquiries into citizenship/immigration;
  • Development of new enrollment procedures governing the activity of district personnel responsible for enrollment;
  • Development of training materials addressing permissible and impermissible inquiries in the enrollment process, including acceptable forms of proof of age and residency in that process, as well as annual training for relevant district personnel; and
  • Recordkeeping requirements for district denials of student enrollment, and regular reporting to the Attorney General concerning such denials, until June 2018.

A sample of one of the agreements, with Cheektowaga, is available here. The joint compliance review by the Attorney General and the Department is ongoing.

This matter is being handled by Assistant Attorneys General Justin Deabler, Ajay Saini, Diane Lucas, and Anjana Samant of the Civil Rights Bureau which 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.

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