The New York State Commissioner of Education MaryEllen Elia issued an interim order yesterday requiring the Mamaroneck Union Free School District to enroll a 16-year-old immigrant student in its high school. The student, C.M., had only completed a middle school education in Guatemala and did not have a high school diploma, yet was barred from Mamaroneck High School and forced to travel to New Rochelle to attend his old high school. As a result of yesterday’s order, C.M. is enrolling in Mamaroneck High School this morning.
“This order should send a strong message to school districts that they have a constitutional obligation to provide education to all students no matter where they’re from,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “We’re glad that a young high-schooler has been given back his chance to get an education at his public school and pursue the American dream like all other children.”
C.M. had moved with his family from New Rochelle to Larchmont, located within the Mamaroneck Union Free School District. When his mother tried to enroll him at Mamaroneck High School, the district sent a letter denying C.M. admission because he had “previously graduated from the highest level of compulsory education offered in Guatemala.”
However, C.M. had only completed a middle school education in Guatemala and did not have a high school diploma. And in New York, state education law says any person over the age of five and under 21 without a high school diploma is entitled to go to school in the district where they live.
Yesterday’s order follows a petition filed by the NYCLU on May 11 asking the commissioner to issue a prompt order directing Mamaroneck High School to allow C.M. to attend. The district responded to the NYCLU’s petition by withdrawing its previous justification as “irrelevant” and “erroneous” but persisted in refusing to enroll C.M.
Today’s ruling is a preliminary assessment by the commissioner against the district’s decision to bar C.M., and protects his right to an education while the commissioner further considers the district’s objections.
“I appreciate the commissioner’s decision and am eagerly enrolling my son,” said C.M.’s mother, Aura Melgar.
“Education is a right for young New Yorkers and a core value of our state,” said NYCLU Staff Attorney Jordan Wells. “Today is a great day for this student and his mom, and we hope New York school districts will recognize that immigrant students have just as much of a right to an education as all other children.”