The New York Civil Liberties Union today filed an appeal on behalf of a 16-year-old student, asking the New York State Commissioner of Education to reverse Mamaroneck Union Free School District’s decision to bar the child from attending high school in the district. The decision violates the student’s right to an education under the New York State Constitution and could prevent him from obtaining the education to which he’s entitled.

“All children have the right to go to school so that they can get the education they need to become productive members of society,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “Instead of denying children their chance to get an education and pursue the American dream, we should be investing in their futures. Sadly, this is far from an isolated incident.”

On April 1, the student, referred to in the appeal as “C.M.,” moved with his family from New Rochelle to Larchmont, located within the Mamaroneck Union Free School District. His mother tried to enroll him at Mamaroneck High School. Six days later, the district sent a letter denying C.M. admission because he had “previously graduated from the highest level of compulsory education offered in Guatemala.”

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, and the State Constitution guarantees all children access to free education.

“I was shocked by the school’s decision to deny my son the right to enroll,” C.M.’s mother, Aura Melgar, said. “Education has always been important to me.”

In its petition, the NYCLU asks the commissioner to issue a prompt order directing Mamaroneck High School to allow C.M. to begin attending the school. At present, C.M’s high school in New Rochelle has agreed to let him continue his education on a temporary basis, but he could soon find himself without a school to go to. Meanwhile, his family must deal with the logistics of sending two of their children to Mamaroneck while C.M. is forced to travel to New Rochelle.

“Schools have a constitutional obligation to provide education to all students no matter where they’re from,” said NYCLU Staff Attorney Jordan Wells. “The commissioner should reaffirm that education is a right for young New Yorkers and a core value of our state.”

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