Homeless Advocates Dig for Records on NY Education Outreach

ALBANY, N.Y. (CN) – An advocacy group for the homeless claims in court that New York education officials are refusing divulge what steps they take to work with homeless children.

The Partnership for the Homeless, a national nonprofit, requested records in December 2016 on the education of New York’s homeless children under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 1987. Both the federal act and New York State Law Section 3209 ensure the educational rights of homeless students by requiring state educational agencies to gather comprehensive information identifying challenges facing homeless students and practices that may act as barriers to their enrollment and attendance.

When the New York State Education Department referred the partnership to various online materials, the partnership challenged that response as deficient.

It filed suit on July 10 in Albany County Supreme Court now that it has exhausted the administrative remedies available.

The petition for relief quotes NYSED as claiming that it “does not possess data or records that are critical of this oversight role, including data on homeless students’ schools of origin, where the families of homeless students are placed in shelter, and the transportation provided to homeless children.”

But the coalition says it provided “no explanation for why this information is not available, instead providing only a blanket contention that it has no obligation to create such records.”

Of the more than 58,000 individuals in New York City’s shelter system in 2017, 22,000 are children, according to statistics from the New York City Department of Homeless Services. The department also reported that for fiscal year 2015 “over 47% of families placed in shelter did not receive a shelter placement in the same borough where the family’s youngest school-aged child is enrolled in school.”

This, according to the petition, makes clear that the “placement of children in shelters that are long distances from the schools they are attending causes a number of difficulties, including exceedingly long travel times, late arrivals, and reduced opportunities to participate in extra-curricular activities.” 

The partnership is represented in its petition by David Woll with Simpson Thacher & Bartlett in Manhattan.

The group seeks an order directing NYSED to comply with its December request under the Freedom of Information law, or provide specific written explanations for why the information is unavailable. 

Neither the Department of Education nor an attorney for the partnership have responded to a request for comment.

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