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Springs School Denies Hispanic Boy Over Residency

Though Matias Pulgar Alfaro returned to the United States from Chile and is living with a cousin in Springs, he has been denied a request to attend high school through the feeder district.

Silvia Rea is fighting with the Springs School District to enroll her 17-year-old cousin, who is living with her, in high school.

Matias Pulgar Alfaro would be a junior in East Hampton High School, but the district has denied his application to attend school there as a resident of Springs after he moved back to the United States from Chile.

Rea argues that Alfaro is a resident of Springs, because she is his legal guardian, while the school argues he cannot be considered a resident because she does not have court-ordered custody, according to Superintendent Michael Hartner.

Born and raised in East Hampton, Matias is a U.S. citizen. Five years ago, when he was 12 years old, his parents decided to move back to their native Chile and took him with them.

Matias wanted to move back to the United States earlier this year, so he moved in with Rea at her house on President Street, which is within the Springs School District. “I became his legal guardian when he came here," she said.

He has been living with Rea since early February, which is when she first tried to register him for high school with Springs, the feeder district. For a few weeks, she said, she got no answer on whether he would be allowed to attend the school. She eventually received a letter denying the application on March 4.

“Matias is not entitled to attend school as a resident of Springs,” Springs Superintendent Michael Hartner said in the letter. The reason being: "The law presumes students to be living with their parents and does not recognize the desire to attend school in a particular location as a basis for establishing residency in that location absent the parents.”

Rea has hired an attorney, Thomas W. Horn, Jr., who practices in Sag Harbor. He cited state education law, which reads, “A person over five and under 21 years of age who has not received a high school diploma is entitled to attend public school maintained in the district in which such person resides with the payment of tuition.”

However, according to Hartner, the New York State Law is a decisional law and it is based on Commissioner of Education decisions.

Hartner said based on his interpretation of the law, “A resident is living with his parents or living with someone who has formal court-ordered custody . . . The child has a school to attend in his district of residence which is not currently Springs but where his parents live.” He said, “We are bound by following commissioners rulings.”  

In at least two previous commissioner decisions, it stated, "The presumption that a child resides with his or her parents or a legal guardians can be rebutted upon a determination that there has been a total and presumably permanant, transfer of custody and control to someone residing in the district. While it is not necessary to establish parental custody and control through a formal guardianship proceeding, it is necessary to demonstrate that a particular location is a child permanent residence and that the individual exercising control has full authority and responsibility with respect to the child’s support and custody.”

These two decisions, provided by Horn, deal with a child’s right to attend school in the district based on his or her status of residence.

While, Rea does not have formal court-ordered custody of Matias, but according to Rea and Horn, there is official signed paperwork stating she is the legal guardian and who assumes full financial and parental authority over the child.

Rea and Matias said that he plans to stay for the summer and following school year as a permanent resident.

After that initial denial, Rea and Horn sent in additional information, including citing past commissioner decisions and pointing out a translation problem when it came to application process.

The part of the application Matias' parents in Chile had to fill out was sent in English. They then proceeded to translate the legal document into Spanish and fill it out, but the translation was misleading and begot inaccurate answers, according to Horn.

They also informed Hartner and the Springs School Board that Matias "is a young man that wanted to return to his country."

After the added information, they were then again denied.

On March 9, Hartner and Springs School attorney, Neil Block, met with Rea and her attorney, Hartner said on Wednesday. "We discussed other options—but they just choose not to take these options.” He would not discuss what those options were.

According to Horn, "They advised us to get a judge to order them to do it or go to formal proceedings to transfer custody."

“We do not want to create a situation where we are inviting non-residents to attend Springs," Hartner said.

Horn and Rea said they will appeal to the Commissioner of Education if Alfaro is not allowed access to education through the district. But, Horn said they are limited because the district didn't offer a formal hearing, as other districts do.

Horn wants the district to put Matias in school and let the education commission decide afterwards.

"We were hoping to avoid an appeal to the commissioner because of the time issue for the student," Horn said.

Meanwhile, Matias spends the day without much to do. "During the day I am kind of bored because I’m by myself," he said. He plays hockey in a local sports league at Sportime in Amagansett, plays soccer, and just received his driving permit.

Rea said he tries to talk to students in his grade about what they are reading or doing in school so he doesn’t get too far behind. Rea also has a daughter who attends Springs, where she is an active parent.

Lynne Scanlon March 25, 2011 at 03:02 PM
Wow. I'm impressed. It sounds like adoption would be the most expedient method to assure Matias Alfaro a seat in our public schools.
Melissa March 25, 2011 at 03:04 PM
The difference between this boy and another "resident of The Springs who has a (distant) family member living in a foreign country who could invite them to leave their parents abroad and move into The Springs so they could get the benefit of a "free" American public education" IS that this kid was born in the US, raised in the US and wants to continue his education in the US.
mary mcpartland March 25, 2011 at 05:15 PM
If I am understanding the nuance correctly, the issue is that this student's cousin, while his legal guardian, has not secured legal custody. Yes, he is a U.S. citizen, living with extended family in Springs. But right or wrong, if NYS education law is explicit on this topic (is it??), then legal custody is required to establish bona fide district residency. It's a tough moral issue, because we are talking about a child's future and a sense of fairness and justice. But since it really boils down to taxpayer expense, the real emotion should be around whether this rigor is being applied across the board at Springs. As taxpayers, we'd be in a much better place if we could be assured that ONLY residents (with all that EDUCATION LAW intends that word to mean) were attending school in our district. How many other stories like this are out there? We need MORE coverage on this issue so that people understand the complexity and magnitude of the problem facing our district. BTW: It has NOTHING to do with ethnicity of our students and their families! At least, I want to believe that ...
Melissa March 25, 2011 at 05:16 PM
I see what you are getting at "Windmill" and of course no one wants that situation happening in EH.......But Mrs. Rea is the boy's legal guardian. That is the difference.
Melissa March 25, 2011 at 05:25 PM
I guess we really have to find out what the law says...I'm sure there are a lot of "legal guardians" that send children to our schools that were never even questions.....but if the law says you must secure legal custody then I guess Mrs. Rea will have to fight her battle to a higher power or just lie and get around the system like everyone else.
mary mcpartland March 25, 2011 at 05:35 PM
Melissa, now wouldn't that be a great undertaking by our district! All students attending our school, including EHHS on our tuition dollars, are living with their parents or legal guardians who have legal custody. NOW those are numbers I really want to see! Maybe this article will spark some action in that direction. Seems "easy" enough to do: all students who enter school in 2011-12 are required to bring in proof of full-time district residency and proof that they reside in our district with parents or their legal guardians who have legal custody. Yahoo!! C'mon, Mr. Hartner!!
mary mcpartland March 25, 2011 at 05:42 PM
PS, Thank you to the reporter, Kerry Goleski, for shining a spotlight on one aspect of the serious issues confronting Springs. By bringing us the "human side" of the difficult financial situation we're facing, you've drawn more people's attention to this critical topic. Bravo and keep it up!!
Lynne Scanlon March 25, 2011 at 05:44 PM
Alfaro's situation does sound like an attempt at an end-run around the system now that he is old enough to be separated from his parents in Chile.
Melissa March 25, 2011 at 06:02 PM
I think proof of residency should be required each year. Am I correct that now all you need is a lease showing residency in EH when your kid enters school...after that, you're clear! That's crazy...As far as Mr. Alfaro's situation.....I guess being born and raised here meant nothing...he can't come back to school here? What if he was abused or if his parents were drug abusers? This article would probably be praising Mrs. Rea for saving a boy and getting him a great education!
mary mcpartland March 25, 2011 at 06:08 PM
Windmill: YES! I'm all for taxpayers coughing up the right amount of dollars to properly educate and prepare our students to be productive, contributing members of society. In my opinion, you buy a house, you buy the obligation to fund students' education in your district -- and a "good" education at that, to advance the interests and competitiveness of our nation. What I'm not for is educating individuals whose families don't fairly and equitably pay into the system. Full stop: when you enroll your student in ANY public school, you MUST be required to show proof of legal district residency, proof of legal custody (either as parent or legal guardian) and proof that you, either as a homeowner or a tenant who works and pays income tax, is contributing into the system. How this issue has been allowed to continue without resolution for so long is beyond me. But I think the tide is turning ...
mary mcpartland March 25, 2011 at 06:12 PM
Of course, there are retired people or others who for some reason don't/can't pay taxes because of disabilities or myriad other reasons, yet have a kid they are legally responsible for and are sending to the local school. That's not the issue we are talking about here!
mary mcpartland March 25, 2011 at 06:19 PM
Most definitely, proof of residency and custody EVERY YEAR. That's easy enough to do: we certainly have to show proof of immunizations on a regular basis. Paperwork in order? Check ... off you go to your class! The tough issue here is the moral issue. What obligation do we as taxpayers have to assist families/students in difficult situations? Maybe in the main, all the rules apply. Then when there are "outstanding, mitigating circumstances," there is some kind of appeal process put in place, and then the money comes down from Albany is supplement the kid's education. That's more a justice/human rights issue, and probably should be resolved by social services at the state level. Sure, I'd love my student to get an elite Long Island school district education, but just because I have cousins living in some of those places does not mean my kid is entitled to get access to it because I have family he can bunk in with.
mary mcpartland March 25, 2011 at 07:54 PM
Calling out the ethnicity of the student is a mistake. That's j-school basics. The facts of the case are the story, not the ethnicity of the subject. The lede makes the student's background clear enough. Hopefully, if the student were hailing from NYC or Nassau County or Montauk, white, black, purple or otherwise, the case would be the same.
mary mcpartland March 25, 2011 at 08:51 PM
Sadly, Anonymous, I've seen this situation occur and I have some friends where this is the case. The legal answer, I believe, is that students must be educated by the custodial parent's district. I'd sure like to see whether this is strictly enforced!
Anonymous March 25, 2011 at 09:42 PM
Answer me this: If the official position of Superintendent Hartner & Springs School is that Matias is not entitled to be educated at Springs taxpayers' expense as he's not a "resident" (b/c the person he lives w/ doesn't have "legal custody"), what should the school's position be in a divorce situation where only one parent is awarded "full legal custody" of a couple's child(ren) and it's the non-custodial parent who lives in the Springs School district? Imagine a hypothetical scenario where a divorced couple has several children. The father absolutely lives in the Springs School District but the mother most certainly does not, and while the kids may even sleep at the father's house some nights, it's the mother who has "full custody" of the children per the final divorce decree. Should Superintendent Hartner tell this family that the kids cannot attend Springs School as they're not "residents" because the sole custodial parent lives in a different school district? Now assume for purposes of further discussion that: (i) any custody order is granted during the summer (so there's no risk of academic disruption by making anyone transfer to a new school mid-year); and (ii) the school's administration is aware of this "sole custody" scenario; yet (iii) the kids are still allowed to enroll at Springs School the following school year. Given this scenario, how can Hartner legitimately cite "lack of custody" as the reason to deny Matias "residency" in the district?
David Buda March 26, 2011 at 02:19 PM
Actually, the Commissioner of Education's published Decisions deal with almost every conceivable, unusual family situation, including joint & sole custody in divorces, foster families, temporary forced relocations due to disasters. Sometimes the ultimate financial responsibility for a child's education is placed on a district other than the one that is actually educating the child. And, sometimes a Court has to resolve the more difficult cases, such as the 2004 case that involved The Springs U.F.S.D: Longwood Cent. School Dist. v. Springs Union Free School Dist., 1 NY3d 385. New York's highest court had to decide which of two school districts must bear the educational costs for children who, immediately before their placement in foster care, lived in a homeless shelter with their mother. The question is found to be governed by Education Law § 3202 (4) (a), and the outcome turned on where the children "resided" within the meaning of the statute. However, because the term is undefined, the Court of Appeals had to determine whether it means mere physical location or also includes an element of permanency. The Court held that, under the statute, physical presence alone does not qualify as "residence," and therefore concluded that the Springs Union Free School District, the children's last permanent residence, was financially responsible for their instructional costs.
marie March 26, 2011 at 08:09 PM
If all that has to be done is get formal custody , what is the problem. She will get it and then he will be enrolled in the school It has to be this way and I applaud them for sticking to the rules. They are there for a reason. They are not denying him an education. They just want it to be with legal custody. Many people pull that they are living with the aunt of family member as a way to get into a different school district. It is a way to protect what our tax dollars go for. So again I applaud them for protecting our interest and making sure it is done legally.
Marci Apple March 26, 2011 at 09:55 PM
Good for Springs. The laws should be inforced. We just cannot make exceptions because a student feels like going to a certain school because his friends, relatives etc. go there or whatever. The taxpayers have had enough.
Carol Buda March 26, 2011 at 10:00 PM
I congratulate the Springs District for getting tough on residency issues. The district is going to enforce the law in both directions to both serve and protect the community. We will only pay for students who we are “legally” responsible for because we are going under from the costs. The issue here is primarily a legal and financial one. The law mandates that Springs taxpayers pay for all students with proven residency in the district. There are many people here on tourist visas living in Springs that we are forced to pay for, even though people on tourist visas should not be putting their children in school and working here. One wonders why the US government gives tourist visas to people with children and pays no attention to their length of stay.
Carol Buda March 26, 2011 at 10:00 PM
Though irrelevant to this case, here is something for Americans to ponder. Although this boy is a citizen, were his parents here illegally when he was born? If so, under our law he is a US citizen, but is it also a form of fraud? If a person marries a US citizen to gain a green card, that can be fraud and the green card denied. These problems stem from a US government that is not enforcing it’s laws, creating a huge problem and financial burden for ordinary citizens. We must acknowledge that the US has a huge illegal migration problem. This boy’s situation appears to be an outgrowth of that. As average Americans are being forced to fund illegal behavior with every increasing amounts for education and healthcare, more scrutiny will be necessasry and more discussion will ensue. I welcome the discussion which I think is long overdue.
Fred Melamed March 28, 2011 at 09:33 PM
Hispanic |hiˈspanik| adjective of or relating to Spain or to Spanish-speaking countries, esp. those of Latin America. • of or relating to Spanish-speaking people or their culture, esp. in the U.S. noun a Spanish-speaking person living in the U.S., esp. one of Latin American descent. As you can see, a completely acceptable use of the word.
Marisa March 29, 2011 at 12:37 PM
I can't believe the ignorance of some of this people .....feel sorry for them!!!!!!!
Pat R March 29, 2011 at 12:55 PM
where do you see the ignorance?
Mo Neill April 12, 2011 at 02:07 AM
Yes, but law is not being enforced. The Supreme Court stated clearly in 1982 that all children must receive a free education, even the children of undocumented or of unresolved status. This entire decision has been made in a context of deep anti-Latino expression among a very vocal group in Springs that blames 'Illegals" (read, Latinos, since speakers had no idea who's legal and who's not) for all manner of ill, from crime, to overcrowding, to heavy traffic, to living off welfare, to coming here to get free education, to making eyesores of their properties in Springs, to lowering real estate values, to causing wages to fall, to not spending money here, but sending home, to disrupting neighborhoods w/ loud noise, bringing in prostitutes, not paying taxes, to causing taxes to rise, etc. It really doesn't matter what are the facts, because. as we have heard at various meetings, these people "do not respect our laws, they do not want to speak English, they do not understand American culture, they don't want to fit in." You see they're strangers, incapable of integrating into American life and will always remain strangers. All previous mentionned ills blamed on Latinos are patently false, one could could go through each of them to easily refute, but that's not the problem. The problem is they are but excuses to pin fears and/or hostility expressed by many, openly, publicly. You see, "they" do not belong here, according to a vocal group in Springs and will never fit in.
Mo Neill April 12, 2011 at 04:14 AM
Carol, yr assertions are in contradiction to all the studies to date, commisioned by the Immigration service. This is not a "huge problem and financial burden to ordinary citizens" as you have it, without any citation to back it up. It's not considered even a poroblem, except to the immigrantion restrictionists. As a person who supports our Constitution, I believe it can be shown to be a good article that protects the rights of all Americans and has been an important right that has become the very fabric of our lives, to coin a phrase, in our Democratic experiment we call the U.S.A.. "These problems" do not stem from anything our government has done or not and certainly are not a "financial burden for ordenary citizens," but part of our patrimony so wisely established by our founding fathers. We must acknowledge that the U.S. is an immigrant nation & the history of the nation is a history of our immigration. It has been and still is the engine of our dynamic growth as a great nation and economic colossus. This boy's situation appears to be an outgrowth of suspicion and wariness of the outsider, the target of resentment and blame, long a major feature of our national political life. Yr pentultimate statement is patently false. Immigration is now & it always has been an enormous plus for the USA. see: http://www.hagedornfoundation.org/downloads/HispanicImpactJournal_vF3.pdf http://www.dmiblog.com/archives/2007/05/conservative_columnist_support.html
Mo Neill April 12, 2011 at 04:54 PM
Many seem to share yr view that the story is about enforcement of rules, not about Latinos. It's wishful thinking. It is not by coincidence this decision was made in the middle of a very contentious debate over affordable housing. At several meetings many people stood up to say they opposed a generous accessory apt accomodation because of the baneful presence of "illegals" causing school tax increase. There were many more comments on how "illegals" overcrowd houses, not paying taxes, bringing down property values, creating residential eyesores, etc. If you think the decision was made in a vacuum and not to seek favor with what might appear to be popular sentiment, that's yr choice. At meetings I attended or viewed, Latinos were central to the debate over rising taxes from overcrowding Springs schools. It's no coincidence that in almost all the disputes of refusing entrance to school, the cases have been Latinos; that almost all the debate here and elsewhere about this decision has revolved aroung "illegals," read Latino. If it is a legitamite concern, there is little reason to deny it or stick our heads in the sand and wishfully deny its centrality. The fact is, it was not a purple kid, black kid, a white kid or otherwise, that is evident. From articles in the NYTmes it is being repeated with accelerating frequency across LI, just as was the case 10 yrs ago when Amagansett was sending home kids who could not produce a lease--all Latino. We shall soon see who wins.
Mo Neill May 08, 2011 at 04:46 AM
I guess Ligia, taxpayer, knows whereof she speaks. Why? Because she is sure. Ligia, be truthful, tell us you didn't cheat peeking into their window to see all those children.
Mo Neill May 08, 2011 at 05:15 AM
O goodness me, don't tell us ICE did not come running out to Springs just because King Jorge the Rickiest tried to punish his good neigthbors he thinks are undocumented (he peeked into their window) by turning them in to central authority. The person at ICE must have thought a kook called claiming his good neighbors told King Jorge himself they were out of status with immigration. We believe you, because you told us the school asked them for documents (which is illegal,) but they had none to show so the school played "dumb." Like logical. Like we all believe you.
Mo Neill May 08, 2011 at 05:42 AM
It has everything to do with ethnicity as not only a good many of those commenting on this issue make abundantly clear. In the anti-immigrant, anti-Latino hysteria going on in Springs, as in much of our nation, these hard working folks are scapegoat for all manner of negative things happening in Springs from causing property values to plunge to heavy traffic to unsightly houses to having children and much more that we have all heard at public meetings. The NY Times ran a longish article on the prevelence on LI for schools to challenge Latino families' residency. The article goes on to say that the reporter herself witnessed a Latino parent sent away for lacking proper crefentials, but when the very same thing occurred with a non-Latino parent without propler papers, there was no problem registering her kid. It is not by happenstance that this action by the school was taken in the midst of the heated fight against accessory apartments, because too many felt it would allow in more Latinos with children. People would rather have all the illegal accessory apartments already in Springs remain as they are, off the rolls, hidden, than allow them to surface, brought up to code, made legal and pay taxes.
Mo Neill May 08, 2011 at 06:16 AM
Can you give us the address you say the school bus let off 8 kids living at this 2 bedroom apt? Or is this futher anecdotal nonsense informed by an accepted disdain and contempt for immigrants, for Hispanics? To contend there is no hostility towards Hispanics in East Hampton is obviously untrue. The fact remains that it is an Hispanic boy that is being denied school not some young girl who swam to victory. The article did not read "Brown Boy Denied School Entrance." I do not see how cutting back on sports, art, etc can be blamed on immigrant children.

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