School District Cannot Refuse to Admit Immigrant Student, State Orders

Affiliate: ACLU of New York
September 28, 2016 4:30 pm

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The New York State Commissioner of Education today ordered the Mamaroneck Union Free School District to permanently enroll a 16-year-old immigrant student, C.M., who it had illegally sought to exclude, thanks to the New York Civil Liberties Union’s appeal on behalf of the student.

“We’re thrilled that C.M. will no longer have to worry about being pulled out of school, but can just worry about his homework like the rest of his classmates,” said NYCLU Staff Attorney Jordan Wells. “All children in New York have a right to learn and pursue the American dream. Districts across the state should heed the Commissioner’s decision and recognize that immigrant children have the same right to attend school as all other children.”

Under New York state education law, any person between the ages of 5 and 21 without a high school diploma is entitled to go to school in the district where they live. C.M., who had completed only middle school in Guatemala, had a right to enroll at Mamaroneck High School when he moved with his family to Larchmont earlier this year. However, when his mother tried to enroll him, the district sent a letter denying him admission, claiming he had “previously graduated from the highest level of compulsory education offered in Guatemala.”

Although the district later withdrew this justification, calling it “irrelevant” and “erroneous,” it nonetheless insisted that C.M. should not be enrolled. In her decision, the commissioner admonished the school district for its shifting positions justifying barring C.M. from enrolling. The district’s rejection forced C.M. to travel to his old school in New Rochelle to continue his studies, even while his parents took his siblings to school in Mamaroneck.

“This process has been very difficult for us, but this decision will help very much because my son’s education has a great impact on his future,” said C.M.’s mom, Aura Melgar. “Hopefully this decision will make the district rethink its actions and provide education to all students without discriminating.”

Commissioner MaryEllen Elia’s decision follows an interim order she issued in May requiring the district to immediately admit C.M. to Mamaroneck High School while a permanent decision was pending. Now, C.M. will get to spend the rest of his high school years near his family. C.M. is particularly eager to continue his English studies this year, and outside of the classroom he likes to play soccer and basketball.

“Today’s decision is a win both for C.M. and for New York’s values,” said NYCLU Regional Organizer Guisela Marroquín. “New York is a stronger state when we invest in all children’s futures and provide them the skills they need to succeed.”

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