New York Attorney General Letitia James and the state Education Department issued a stern warning to school districts that they must enroll migrants in public schools, and not put up roadblocks preventing children from getting an education.
James and state Education Commissioner Betty Rosa sent a letter to the state’s school districts on Sunday, reminding them ahead of the first day of school that they are obligated to provide a free public education to all youth in New York between the ages of 5 and 21, regardless of their immigration or residence status. Those attempting to deny a public education to any child could be subject to legal action, the pair warned.
“Policies that make it difficult or impossible for migrant children and youth to enroll in school are contrary to state education regulations and may expose schools to legal liability,” James and Rosa said in the letter.
The letter comes on the heels of what James and Rosa say are troubling findings from school districts across the state, with many putting up illegal roadblocks to migrant children attempting to enroll in school. They highlighted school districts requiring parents provide voter registration cards, demanding students living without a lease to periodically resubmit proof of residency, and even threatening home visits to any student without a formal lease or home deed.
“The [Office of the Attorney General] and [State Education Department] have recently learned that some districts employ enrollment policies that make it difficult or impossible for noncitizens, undocumented students, and people who rent their homes without a formal lease to register for school. These discriminatory policies harm our most vulnerable students, who rely on our schools for a safe, nurturing environment where they can learn and thrive,” James and Rosa wrote. “[S]uch policies may violate constitutional and statutory protections, exposing school districts to lawsuits and liability.”
School districts should allow students requesting enrollment to start attending class as soon as possible, “ideally the next school day,” the officials say.
While they note districts have a right to impose residency requirements, they should not “make it difficult or impossible for noncitizens, undocumented students, and people who rent their homes without a lease to register for school.” Those moves can include requiring proof of residency periodically, requiring proof of residency to be less than a month old, or threatening to report students’ living situations to local code enforcers. Schools also should not require students provide a Social Security number.
Schools should not deny students an education if they cannot provide certain items proving residency, often those that migrant children may disproportionately lack like leases or utility bills, the pair say.
More than 100,000 migrants have arrived in New York City since last year, straining the city’s ability to shelter them and putting a hole in its budget. More than 80,000 people are staying in city homeless shelters each night, according to the Homeless Services Department’s daily census; 30,000 children were staying in shelters on Aug. 29.
The first day of school in the city is Sept. 7, and thousands of migrant children are expected to enroll.
Against the wishes of the Adams Administration, Gov. Kathy Hochul is not forcing counties and localities outside the five boroughs to take in migrants. Both Hochul and Mayor Eric Adams are pushing the feds to expedite work permits so migrants can begin earning a living.
Many migrant children have spent the summer working, with youngsters hawking candy becoming a familiar sight on the city’s subways.