Children staying with friends and relatives or in shelters after Hurricane Sandy have the right to enroll in the school that's closest to their temporary home--and they don't need the usual documents showing where they live, Chancellor Dennis Walcott said in a letter to parents this week.
The Department of Education doesn't know how many children are staying in temporary shelters or doubled up with friends, but the number is certainly in the thousands. Some 26,000 students have been relocated to a different school because their school has structural damage or no power, a spokesman said.
On Thursday night, the chancellor said that students in relocated schools could enroll in schools closer to their homes, rather than travel to their school's temporary location. The chancellor's statement came after DOE enrollment officers told families that "only students whose families were displaced by the storm can enroll in different schools, not students whose schools were displaced by the storm," NY 1 reported. When asked about this by NY 1 reporter Lindsey Christ, Walcott clarified that students in relocated schools could enroll in schools nearer where they live.
Some neighborhood schools are already seeing an influx of displaced students. About seven children from the John Jay High School shelter attended PS 321 in Park Slope on Monday, said Principal Liz Phillips. Five more children who were living with families in the neighborhood also enrolled on Monday. "We’ll probably get a few more kids where families with kids ending up staying in the neighborhood," she said.
"A lot of schools are getting an overflow of kids," said Jennifer Pringle, director of NYS TEACHS, which runs a statewide hotline for schools and families about the educational rights of homeless children. And as some shelters close and families are relocated to other living situations, she said, "You’re looking at kids who are going to transition through several schools."
Elementary and middle school students may enroll directly at the neighborhood schools closest to where they are staying and high school students should go to an enrollment center to enroll in a school closer to where they are living.
Displaced students also have the right to keep attending school in their home neighborhoods, said Pringle.
"You can always keep your kids in the same school," she said. "Being connected to the same teachers and school can be supportive when everything else is chaotic in their lives. But the biggest issue for parents is transportation. Sometimes it's not a viable option for them -- parents can take four to six hours a day to get their children to school."
TEACHS will be offering a workshop for parents at the central Brooklyn Public Library on Grand Army Plaza on Nov. 27 from 10 am to noon, entitled: Children in Temporary Housing: Your Right to Go to School. There will be a webinar on Nov. 13 for professionals and agencies working with children on the rights of students under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, including information on disaster relief specific to New York City. See the TEACHS website to register.
(updated Nov. 9)