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October 23, 2014
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JP O'Hare

(518) 474-1201



New York State Education Department and New York Attorney General Launch Review

of District Enrollment Procedures for Unaccompanied Minors and Other Undocumented Students Initial Focus of Review will include Nassau, Suffolk, Rockland, and Westchester Counties

Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch, State Education Commissioner John B. King, Jr. and New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced that the State Education Department and State Attorney General’s Office will conduct a compliance review of school districts’ enrollment policies and procedures for unaccompanied minors and other undocumented students.  The review, which will examine whether students are being denied their constitutional right to an education, will initially focus on districts experiencing the largest influx of unaccompanied minors from Central and South America ( ).

"We have a legal and a moral obligation to provide every child, no matter where they come from or what they look like, with an education," said Chancellor Tisch. “And we're going to do everything possible to make sure that happens.  The Department will take strong and swift action against any district that breaks the law and denies a child a seat in a classroom. 

"The Board of Regents recognizes the fiscal impact an unanticipated influx of new students has on districts.  We are asking New York's Congressional delegation to support urgent action on proposals for federal funding for districts receiving unaccompanied minors.  Our State Aid proposal, to be announced later this fall, will call for immediate action on additional state aid for districts managing an influx of new students this school year."

“Schoolhouse doors must be open to every student in our increasingly diverse state regardless of their immigration status—there is simply no excuse for denying that basic right, which is protected by the Constitution,” 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. This review is a crucial step in that effort."

“Every school district in New York State has an obligation to educate all of our children regardless of their immigration status,” King said. “We will not stand by while districts ignore the law and prevent these children from receiving an education.  Department staff has already started this process, and we won’t stop until we’re sure every district is following the law and every child is in school.”

The joint compliance review will help determine whether districts in Nassau, Suffolk, Rockland and Westchester Counties maintain policies and procedures that exclude or impair the ability of students seeking to enroll in school solely on the basis of their citizenship or immigration status or that of their parents or guardians.

The announcement follows a series of actions already taken by the Department.  On August 30, 2010, the Department issued guidance to districts on their obligations in enrolling students and making residency determinations, particularly students who are not citizens of the United States ( ).

On September 10, 2014, the Department expanded the guidance to address the specific circumstances of unaccompanied minors who have recently entered the country in larger numbers ( ).

On October 17th, following allegations that the Hempstead school district was ignoring the law and preventing 34 Hispanic children from receiving an education, the Department launched a full investigation of enrollment policies in Hempstead.  The district subsequently committed to enroll the students and to provide them with an appropriate public education.  A report to the Department from the Interim District Superintendent of the Nassau Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) on the Hempstead policies is expected today.  King said the Department will direct the Hempstead school district to take immediate action to address concerns that may be raised in the report.

In 1982, the United States Supreme Court  invalidated a Texas law that denied state funding to schools to educate undocumented students and authorized schools to deny enrollment to undocumented students (Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202).  The Court held that the U.S. Constitution guarantees equal protection under the law for undocumented children and explained that allowing undocumented students to be denied 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." ( Plyler, 457 U.S. at 223).  As Plyler makes clear, the undocumented or non-citizen status of a student (or his or her parent or guardian) is irrelevant to that student's entitlement to an elementary and secondary public education.

This joint compliance review will be modeled on similar reviews conducted by federal agencies and will include examination of districts’ written enrollment and registration materials and publicly-disseminated information regarding those procedures.  The first phase of the joint compliance review will focus on Suffolk, Nassau, Westchester and Rockland Counties.  In addition, the State Education Department will be meeting with community based organizations and advocates to provide technical assistance on the legal obligations of districts around enrollment and the rights of students and parents, and to provide information on the due process rights of impacted students, including the right to appeal district enrollment decisions directly to the Commissioner ( ).

In addition, the New York State Technical and Education Assistance Center for Homeless Students (NYS-TEACHS) [] provides technical assistance to school districts, social service providers, shelters, families, youth and others about the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.  NYS-TEACHS services include:

  • A Toll Free Helpline for questions about school-related issues (800-388-2014);
  • On-site training, webinars, and annual McKinney-Vento Workshops on the education of students in temporary housing; and
  • Free Posters and Brochures in multiple languages with information about the rights of students in temporary housing.

The NYS-TEACHS helpline has operators available to provide guidance and support to speakers of languages other than English.  Undocumented students who may qualify as homeless and are experiencing enrollment difficulties – and their parents, social service providers, and other advocates – should contact the helpline for assistance.