The New York Civil Liberties Union and Legal Services of Central New York today announced a settlement agreement that protects immigrant students’ right to equal educational opportunities in Utica and provides a model for how New York school districts can ensure that English language learners are not segregated into inferior alternative programs without their full knowledge and consent.

“Today’s agreement recognizes that no child in New York should be shortchanged on their education,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “No one benefits when kids who have come to New York fleeing violence or poverty are denied their shot at the American dream. We hope the new policies for Utica will serve as a model for change for other districts that discriminate against immigrant children.”

New York law guarantees a free, public education to youth younger than 21 who have not earned a diploma. Nonetheless, refugee and immigrant students often face barriers to enrollment, such as being funneled into inadequate alternative programs that deny them the opportunity to get degrees, take basic classes or socialize and integrate with other students. Today’s agreement is the result of a lawsuit, Tuyizere v. Utica, filed in 2015 on behalf of six refugee students who were excluded from public high school in Utica.

“This agreement puts in place critical checks to ensure that vulnerable immigrant kids are not cheated out of their education and future by being diverted from high school to alternative programs,” said Phil Desgranges, staff attorney at the NYCLU and lead counsel on the case. “We look forward to working with the state to ensure that all school districts have similar checks in place.”

Nearly one-in-six Utica residents is a refugee, and the city is a safe haven for those fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries. Yet the Utica City School District and school administrators began excluding refugees in 2007 from the city’s high school who are older than 16 with limited English proficiency and diverting them to segregated and inferior alternative programs.

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