So it came as quite a shock to learn from WKTV that the Utica School district is being sued for (allegedly) illegally denying refugee youth an education. The OD also had an article. How is this possible in a school district renowned for its diversity?
A "helping hand?"
The complaint, brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union and its Central New York affiliate on behalf of six students and "others similarly situated,"
"challenges the Defendants’ policy and practice of excluding limited English proficient (“LEP”) immigrants aged 17-20 from Thomas R. Proctor High School (“Proctor High School”) in Utica, N.Y. . . . It alleges that
. . . For the last 8 years, Defendants have been excluding LEP immigrants (primarily refugees) over 16 years of age from Proctor High School, the only high school in Utica, and diverting them to alternative education programs. . . . And it seeks
. . . an order requiring Defendants to enroll LEP immigrants aged 17-20 in Proctor High School if the immigrants want to go to high school, are residents of the Utica City School District, and have not yet turned 21 years old [among other "Relief" requested].The suit claims, with specific reference to NY Ed Law 3202 (1), that individuals have the right "to attend the high school within their district" until they turn 21 or earn a high school diploma, that it must be the student's choice to attend an alternative program, and that
For the last eight years, however, the Defendants have been robbing immigrant students of that choice." [4, emphasis supplied]Wow! The Utica school district "robs" immigrant students of "choice" -- and the "civil liberties" attorneys are lending a helping hand make sure that the students have this "choice?"
The complaint gives details of the students' ages, the countries they came from, the hardships they sustained, their native languages, the fact that they are "LEP," and their hopes and dreams (of being a doctor, nurse, teacher, engineer). Every single one of them has spent 17 years in an overseas refugee camp, i.e., virtually their entire life in a world vastly different from Utica. Other than to mention that one student had been taught unspecified subjects at the camp, the complaint is totally silent on the students' educational achievement. The complaint's silence on this point makes it safe to assume they are uneducated. But these students -- or rather, their lawyers -- insist they be able to attend high school which is grades 9-12.
Let's assume that all the allegations in the complaint are true. What happens if the plaintiffs get their wish? Assuming no language barrier, how well would students who are probably 8 to 10 years behind their peers in content learning and with little exposure to our culture do in a high school classroom?
For any student to be successful in a high school course, the student needs to have mastered the prerequisites. Without the prerequisites, the time spent in class is wasted. Worse, frustration may set in that leads to behavior problems. It is not unusual for alternative settings to be created for such students -- and such are the best placement for them.
Biting the hand?
While we can be proud of Utica's cultural diversity, the volume and variety of immigrant students taken into Utica schools has placed financial burdens on local taxpayers -- taxpayers who are already burdened with some of the highest taxes in the nation. Now they will be burdened with the cost of a lawsuit, spending money on lawyers rather than education.
Regardless of the requirements of "the law," considering all that Utica has done to make refugees feel welcome, some Uticans will view this lawsuit as a "slap in the face" or as "biting the hand that feeds you" - a demonstration of ungratefulness, dissatisfaction, and sense of "entitlement" by newcomers. Over time, this could lead to a change in attitude and lead to Utica becoming a less-welcoming place. It would be a tragedy if that happens because that would represent a change in Utica's character.
While there are always those among us (immigrants and non-immigrants alike) who have that "sense of entitlement" and will institute lawsuits to assert "rights" on the flimsiest of pretexts to make a point (especially when someone else pays the bill), from what is known about these plaintiffs this does not seem to be the case. Simply put, they are too new to America, too unfamiliar with our customs, and too involved in learning how to survive to worry about an alleged "right" to attend Proctor High School. No, this lawsuit is not their "biting the hand." Rather, they are being prodded to do this by others with an agenda.
The fact that a press release was issued and media contacted before the school district was even served with the complaint reveals a calculated effort to create a media buzz before the District could intelligently respond. That does not demonstrate a sincere desire to solve a problem, but, rather a desire to play to public opinion.
The claim that the district was "robbing" the students of choice is unnecessarily inflammatory language that similarly evinces a desire to play to public opinion rather than solve a problem.
The complaint misstates NY Ed Law 3202 (1). That provision does NOT state that individuals have the right "to attend the high school within their district" until they turn 21. Rather it states that that such students are "entitled to attend the public schools maintained in the district in which such person resides without the payment of tuition."
How schooling of LEP students is to be accomplished is prescribed by NY Ed Law 3204 and regulations promulgated by the Commissioner of Education there under. The complaint implies that Utica is not in compliance with NY law, mentions only one regulation pertaining to bilingual education, but then fails to demonstrate that the regulation even applies (see pleading #57). [The NYCLU attorneys should read section 3204 thoroughly. Subdivision 3(a)(3) regarding courses of study will probably send some of them into orbit!]
If the Utica district does not comply with NY Law, why is not NYCLU working through the NYS Department of Education instead of proceeding directly to federal court and wasting that court's valuable time? Did they not hear of the concept of "exhaustion of administrative remedies?" NYCLU Staff attorney Desgranges is quoted by WKTV as saying “Across the state, school districts are refusing to enroll young people who are immigrants or limited English proficient, instead placing them in inappropriate or inadequate programs.” If this is a state-wide problem, it would seem that the appropriate course of action would be to go after the state, not Utica.
Mr. Desgranges then goes on to state that Utica has an obligation to educate "all young people, including undocumented immigrants and refugees." The complaint also references an obligation to the undocumented. While that may be true, what does that have to do with this lawsuit?
Or is the NYCLU trying to pressure Utica to accept an expected wave of undocumented immigrants? Such has been reported to be on the president's agenda.
Lastly, is it just coincidence that one of Utica's student immigrant success stories, who's bio reveals an amount of activism and political connection, also happens to be on the board of the suing NYCLU Central New York chapter? Nah . . . must be coincidence.
The lawsuit is neither a helping hand, nor biting the hand. It's something else: a political agenda.