Agreement Opens School Doors to Immigrant Children
WESTBURY, N.Y. - The Westbury School District on Long Island has agreed to end its unwritten policy of delaying or denying school enrollment to children arriving from Central and South America.
New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office was investigating claims that admissions for those 16 and older were often delayed by up to six months, or diverted to non-degree programs.
Maryann Slutsky, executive director of the group Long Island WINS, says under state law, all children have the right to meaningfully participate in educational services and programs.
"All public school districts have a legal obligation to ensure that English-learning students have an equal opportunity to participate, and that means in all school programs," she says.
Westbury is one of 22 districts across the state to reach agreements with the Attorney General's office on policy changes.
According to Slutsky, a major feature of the settlement will be new training for staff.
"A lot of the district employees didn't know what the legal rights were for these children, so they were just kind of making it up as they went along," she says.
Other provisions of the settlement include educational enrichment for students whose enrollment is delayed more than 14 days, and expanded outreach in parents' native language.
On Long Island, Slutsky says, the affected children are mostly from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, and entered the U.S. as unaccompanied minors to join family who had preceded them.
"They're fleeing horrific violence in their home countries," she says, "and they really need to be met with compassion, and with support."