The New York Civil Liberties Union, on behalf of six refugee students, has filed a class-action lawsuit against the Utica City School District in upstate New York claiming that the district diverted refugee children from regular classes to weaker alternative programs, thereby diluting their education.
The complaint claims that the district violated New York's guarantee of a free public education to all residents younger than 21 who have not yet received a diploma. In this case, instead of the children being placed in Utica's Proctor High School, the district has offered spots in one of two alternative programs to non-English-speaking refugees. This has been occurring since 2007.
Roughly 18 percent of residents who arrive in Utica are foreign-born and attend the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees. It is at this Center that academic coaches employed by the school district steer refugee students over the age of 16 toward one of two alternative programs. The complaint alleges that the coaches advise the students that they are too old for high school.
One alternative program, the Newcomer Program, was once run by the district but has been recently taken over by the refugee center. For many years this program exclusively offered English as a second language instruction to immigrant students, rather than core subjects. In 2014, the program added high school equivalency classes, but made them available only to students who tested well on an English exam.
In response to complaints last year, the district created a second alternative program, the Alignment of Pathways and Programs for Learners of English (Apple program), which offers equivalency classes.The school district buses refugee students to the neighboring town where the classes are held. Moreover, the complaint alleges that the alternative programs segregate students and prevent them from qualifying for a subsidized lunch.
The attorney for the school district maintains that the "district never received any information" regarding five of the six refuegee plaintiffs, "which means essentially that the students were not referred to the district for enrollment by the refugee center." Like many districts trying to integrate immigrant students this year, Utica has struggled to find money for all the programs it wants to provide, but he said strong English language programs had helped send many students onto successful college careers.
New York State Attorney General, Eric T. Schneiderman, has opened an investigation into the school's academic placement policies and is also reviewing new accusations of misconduct in several other school districts. He recently reviewed the Hempstead Union Free School District on Long Island and found that the district used deceitful enrollment practices to bar immigrants. He forced the district to appoint an independent monitor and offer compensatory schooling to delayed students to remedy the issue.
A joint review conducted by the State Education Department and Schneiderman in February found that districts were prohibiting children from enrolling based on their immigration status which was in direct violation of a Supreme Court ruling in 1982.