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July 17, 2018

Proposal to require re-enrollment creates barriers for undocumented, homeless and other students to their right to education

NEW ROCHELLE, NY – The New York Civil Liberties Union yesterday called on the New Rochelle School District to reconsider a plan to require all students to present documents to re-enroll before school begins this fall. The NYCLU is concerned that the impact of the re-registration process may discriminate against homeless students, those from low-income households, immigrants and students of color. Requiring all families in the district to present documentation of a student’s address, birth date, and other information may lead to eligible students being denied enrollement in New Rochelle schools, and may discourage parents from attempting to register their children. 
“Re-registering all students is a wasteful, unnecessary process that could lead to discrimination against students who are undocumented, homeless or in temporary housing,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “Creating barriers for students to access public education serves no purpose other than to further marginalize those who are already vulnerable and does nothing to ensure the safety and well-being of the students.” 
The re-registration process may violate state and federal law if otherwise eligible students are prevented from re-enrolling. School districts in New York are required to enroll students who reside in the district, are between the ages of 5 and 21, and have not yet received a high school diploma. The NYCLU is concerned that the list of required documents may deter immigrant families, or students without fixed addresses from trying to enroll, or that untrained staff members may request more documentation (like social security numbers or immigration status) than is legally necessary to enroll children in school.
“All students in New York State have the right to a free, public education,” said Stefanie Coyle, NYCLU education counsel.  “School districts cannot use registration as an excuse to deny access to students who don’t have the stability, documentation or resources to prove their residency on demand.” 
The re-registration plan was proposed as a means to increase safety and security following a tragedy in the school community, allegedly perpetrated by a student who lived outside the district against another student. Yet, the undertones of the public conversation at school board meetings have reflected the desire to prevent certain kinds of students from accessing New Rochelle schools. One community member told school board members “it’s not acceptable that children from outside our district are allowed to be in our district,” while another said “c’mon, let’s check the residency of these kids.” Another commenter argued that re-registering students would solve the alleged problem that “kids who don’t belong here are here.” 
“There are many other ways to ensure the safety and security of students at New Rochelle School District that are both less harmful and more effective,” said Shannon Wong, director of the NYCLU’s Hudson Valley chapter. “Preventing access to education for students who may not be able to readily present documents like their birth certificate and proof of home address is not one of them.” 
In addition to the letter to the school board, NYCLU submitted a Freedom of Information Law request seeking documents and communications relating to the decision to implement the re-registration process in order to gain more insight into both the intent and the impact of this proposal.