An attorney who has prosecuted cases of multiple family dwellings on other parts of Long Island appeared before the Board of Education at their request to explain their limitations to the public concerning illegal housing, even if it poses overcrowding issues in the school.
Neil Block said, “The school district is limited in what they can do. You can encourage constituents to step forward when they have evidence of a multiple dwelling.”
Though teachers have said classrooms are filled to capacity and residents have said Springs is the most dense of anywhere in town, Block explained the school still has an obligation to educate anyone residing in the district between the ages of 5 and 21, whether or not their housing unit is illegal.
The school also cannot disclose information about students to the town without the student or family’s consent. He said the only information they can supply would be directory information such as name, address, and clubs in which the student participates.
That information is only meant to be used positively, for example so clubs, like the a rotary club, can recognize a student for an achievement, he added. Beyond that, parents and students can request that this information is not provided to anyone.
“These issues with personal and privacy issues are very thorny issues," Block said.
Springs Resident David Buda, who has been leading a group called Springs Citizens Concerned in an effort to look at such issues as illegal housing and proposed accessory apartment legislation, said, "The best route can often be prevention. What can the school do to prevent this problem?"
The school’s furthest reach within this issue is checking if a student actually resides within the district. Students sometimes move out of a school district and continue to receive an education from the previous school district they resided.
Superintendent Michael Hartner said that the district implemented a system this school year to check the lease, utility bill and other proof of residence each year for every student to ensure no one is attending school from out of district. Prior to this implementation, the residency check was in place but not processed each year for every student.
Block explained that one way the school could provide information would be if there is already a case against a specific house that has gone to court and then the judge subpoenaed the school for information.
Springs School Teacher Kristy LaMonda asked about a classroom scenario: If she had an assignment where the students had to map out the fire exits for their houses and she noticed that a student had an unsafe house, could she report that.
Block said, “If you have first hand knowledge then report it to the fire marshal.” It is legitimate for a teacher who gains information about a student to file a personal complaint, he added.
Block encouraged community members to step forward if they know about an illegal dwelling. That tip can spark an investigation and result in prosecution. Although an anonymous tip can help the case it is better for those community members with information to actually testify if they want to build a case against an illegal housing situation.
Block said, “It is a balancing act between law enforcement and privacy.”