Written by Betsy Abraham Wednesday, 31 July 2013 00:00
How should the board of education handle illegal residents and how much should they get involved if they find out students are living in illegal conditions?
Those were some questions posed at a recent board of education meeting, as the board considered approving a contract for two investigative services. The companies would be responsible for provide residential verifications and residential investigative services for students the district had reason to believe did not live in Westbury.
The district has utilized these companies in the past and has a budget of $50,000 they split evenly between the two firms. Services include resident verifications, resident investigations, video surveillance and background/telephone/address searches. The district may be tipped off to an illegal resident by a lack of paperwork or an excessive amount of students sharing the same address, and then contact the investigative firms, who will then check the authenticity of a student’s address.
The companies have had past success in finding illegal residents, which the district defines as students living outside of district lines, but many times they also find children who are living in Westbury but in illegal dwellings. Should the school district get involved if a student is living in a residence that has been illegally rented or subdivided?
“Regardless of the condition, in which we do not support, if they reside in the school district, illegal housing or not, we have to educate them,” Board Vice President Pless Dickerson said. “Are we a reporting agency on housing? I don’t think so. Our job is to educate.”
“Those unsafe and unhealthy living conditions are affecting our children’s ability to settle down in the mornings,” Board President Rodney Caines said. “Our mission is to educate the children but their living conditions are affecting their education.”
Some board members expressed a desire to work with local municipalities.
“A collaborative effort between the district and our municipalities around the topic of illegal residencies is essential not just for our tax dollars, which are being used for people who are not legal residents in the district, but also because you have kids living in unsafe conditions,” board member Siela Bynoe said.
But Dickerson said that it wasn’t the school’s place to get involved.
“We have personnel to deal with that — social workers, guidance counselors. I don’t want us to get caught up,” Dickerson said. “This is an educational institution. The town and village are responsible for illegal dwellings and I don’t want to cross into that.”
The district has met with Town of North Hempstead and village officials on the subject of illegal housing, and at a July village board meeting, the mayor said that they would be working with the school district to stop illegal residences. But Caines said that it would be a long time before the district saw any changes.
“From our meetings with the town and village, it’s a long process,” Caines said. “What we’re doing is taking a hard line approach. You’re not going to see a decrease in enrollment, at least not immediately. Once the landlord gets uncomfortable you will see a decrease but how long that actually takes comes down to how it’s fought.”
The district is hoping that building a central registration site at Dryden Street School will help cut down on the amount of illegal registrants. According to Superintendent Dr. Mary Lagnado, central registration will help cut down on students slipping into the district because administration and clerical staff will be trained on what to look out for.
“It will be one point of entry for residency verification. One office will be trained, looking at the same documents, making sure everything is properly done,” Lagnado said.
Some of these cases are out of district students who have grandparents who live in Westbury, or parents who have joint custody of them so their time is split between two districts. However, Lagnado emphasized that the child is supposed to go to school in the district they reside and sleep in, not where they’re being babysat.
At the July 18 meeting, the board decided to table a decision until they found out more information on the firms and the past year’s results.