ROOSEVELT, N.Y. (AP) – New York officials ordered a statewide review Thursday of public school compliance with enrollment policies for unaccompanied minors and immigrant children following reports that several dozen children who had recently arrived from Central America were not admitted to a Long Island high school.
The students are among about 2,500 unaccompanied immigrant children placed with relatives on Long Island in recent months following a wave of border crossings by youngsters who have come into the United States seeking asylum.
"The issue is very simple for us – the law in New York State says these children will be seated in their home school districts, whatever those districts are, and we plan to make sure that does happen," state Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said during a visit to a Roosevelt, Long Island, elementary school.
The first phase of the review will begin with suburban New York City school districts in four counties — Suffolk, Nassau, Westchester and Rockland counties — and eventually expand to include all districts statewide, officials said.
The Board of Regents, state Education Department and state attorney general's office announced the review following reports that the Hempstead School District had turned away about three dozen immigrant students for several weeks, citing overcrowding. Those students began attending classes this week after Hempstead officials opened an auxiliary school in rented office space in the village, according to advocates for the children and their families.
Hempstead school officials have not returned several requests seeking comment.
Meanwhile, the Education Department is conducting a separate investigation of the allegations involving the Hempstead schools.
"Schoolhouse doors must be open to every student in our increasingly diverse state regardless of their immigration status," Attorney General Schneiderman said in a statement. "There is simply no excuse for denying that basic right, which is protected by the Constitution."
Immigration advocates on Long Island have said other than the Hempstead situation they have not had widespread reports that immigrant students were being denied access to classrooms elsewhere.
Tisch said she was hopeful that state and federal funding would be available to help school districts contending with crowding because of the influx of immigrant students.
"These children have been brought here and they deserve no less than what the American way of life has been built on," Tisch said. "America was built on immigrants and we plan to make sure that is respected."