A school district in upstate New York has been accused of discrimination against older immigrant students by pushing them into dead-end programs, according to the state’s attorney general.
A federal civil rights lawsuit was announced earlier this week by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman against the Utica City School District that accuses the district of segregating and denying equal educational access to immigrant and refugee students.
According to the lawsuit, the district has been steering students age 16 and older away from Proctor High School, pushing them instead into alternative programs located in separate buildings referred to as “academic dead-ends,” where they are unable to obtain a diploma and do not have access to activities such as gym, art, and music, and extra-curricular activities, writes Rick Karlin for The Times Union.
The attorney general’s office said doing so has resulted in many of the immigrant students to either “age out” or drop out of the school system before they can obtain a high school diploma.
“School districts cannot place arbitrary impediments and barriers in the way of immigrants and refugees who have struggled to achieve a better life for themselves and their families,” said Schneiderman.
Schneiderman went on to say that immigrant students in the district had been treated differently than other students from the time of enrollment, having been separated from the student body as much as possible.
In order to enroll, Utica schools require students with limited English skills to hand over immigrant documents to prove their age. Students who are older than 16 years of age are then sent to alternative programs separate from the general student population.
The district uses this practice with new refugee students as well as those arriving from high schools in other states.
Schneiderman argues that the alternative programs do not allow students to earn credits toward a high school diploma. In addition, he said the students spend as much as two years only learning basic language skills.
Lunch times and buses were also kept separate from other students.
However, Superintendent Bruce Karam maintains there is no truth to the claims and that there are currently over 200 English language learners between the ages of 17 and 21 enrolled in the high school.
State Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi (D) said the lawsuit brought on by Schneiderman is in response to participation by the Utica school district in a lawsuit against the state along with seven other school districts who claim the education funding formula in the state is unfair.
Brindisi went on to say that the district does not have the money necessary to provide the high-quality education the state expects, but it continues to educate the entire student population, including many students with disabilities and English language learners.
Meanwhile, Schneiderman states that the act of segregating immigrants by the district is in conflict with a law requiring the public school system to offer an equal education to students through age 21. He added that the district is also in violation of State Education Department guidelines that suggest school districts refrain from asking about immigrant status, reports Julie McMahon for Syracuse.com.
Schneiderman said that the city has one of the highest percentages of limited English households in the state.