The Putnam Examiner

Brewster Parents Divided Over Student Re-registration

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A mandatory re-registration of all Brewster school system students has left community members divided over whether the action taken by the district is causing more harm than good.

The impetus for the re-registration process is based on concerns from community members that there is residency fraud occurring in the schools, according to a letter to parents. To ensure every student–from kindergarteners to high school seniors–are legal residents, a parent or guardian must make an appointment this summer and provide all proofs of residency on the re-registration certification form, according to a note from the district.

Residency and custodial requirements outlined in New York State education law are carefully reviewed when a student registers to initially join the district, the district stated, but once the student is enrolled, it is tougher to continuously confirm a family’s residency.

If a resident isn’t a homeowner or can’t provide a lease, they can provide a landlord affidavit or third party affidavit, which can be acquired on the school district website.

Immigration status will not be required and is not a condition of enrollment.

“We do realize that this procedure may be an inconvenience, but hope that you understand that with increasing property taxes and tighter school budgets, it is essential that every dollar spent in our schools goes towards the education of Brewster CSD residents only,” part of the letter states.

During board meetings the last few months, multiple residents stood up and demanded residency rules be strictly adhered to. One supporter of the re-registration, Wendy Lewis, said she knows of a few families that don’t live in the district, but send their child or children to Brewster schools. Other community members have the same experience, she said.

Lewis said she estimates somewhere between 40 to 50 students are improperly enrolled in the district prior to the re-registration.

“At $31,000 a kid that’s a lot of money the district could be saving,” Lewis said. “Where we can save money, we want to save money. We definitely don’t want to restrict anyone from getting an education but you just have to live in the town and that’s all this push was for.”

Resident Peter Carey, who had three children go through the district, said the residency check is “long overdue” and an issue that should’ve been addressed years ago. Most of the people that Carey has spoken to don’t like the re-registration because they say it’s inconvenient.

“(The district) is not asking anyone to really go out of their way,” Carey said. “They’re not making it overly difficult in order to keep any specific type of person or people out of the schools.”

Some community members are incensed the district is requiring re-registration, fearing the process could shun residents’ children that live in the district, but might be in the country illegally. Federal law requires every school system to provide an education to a child regardless of their or their families’ immigration status.

A Facebook group started within the past month named Residents of the Brewster Central School District (RBCSD) characterizes the re-registration as meritless. The anonymous group stated in a social media post that the re-registration comes at a poor time because Latino and other immigrant populations are facing a hostile environment nationwide and might be afraid to come forward to re-register. Additionally, undocumented parents might have a harder time proving residency status since many don’t have a mortgage or aren’t renters on a lease agreement, the group claims.

“This is creating an undo burden on our most vulnerable,” the organization stated.

In a message to The Putnam Examiner, RBCSD stated it thinks the re-registration is a waste of money and the board of education doesn’t know how much it’ll eventually cost. The group also believes the re-registration could open the district to potential litigation. The group states it is anonymous because of fear of bullying from fellow residents.

Carmel resident Norma Pereira, who works in the Brewster community, said the push toward re-registration is a result of fear and discrimination toward a larger immigrant population in the district. She said many immigrant families are worried about providing documentation to the school, though a few non-profits are helping those families fill out applications.

“In the end, our children are the ones that are going to get hurt,” Pereira said.

Lewis scoffed at any suggestion that racism is playing a factor in the re-registration push, calling the stance “ridiculous.” Lewis said supporters of the re-registration don’t want to restrict any ethnic group and understands that some families in town are renters but do not have a lease, which is why the school was encouraged to offer other methods to prove a family lives within district borders.

“Nobody who wants this residency wants to keep any child out of the district that lives here,” Lewis said. “We just don’t want you to live in Danbury, Connecticut or Carmel and attending school in Brewster. You have to live here, that’s all we ask. We don’t care what color or ethnicity you are; if you live here you have the right to attend school.”

Carey added, “As far as kids that are in the country illegally, if they live in the Brewster school district, we have an obligation by law to educate them. That’s not the ones the people are concerned about.”

Newly minted school board president Sonia Mesika defended the re-registration action, stressing the board and district listened to concerns of the community. She noted that residents told the board that other school systems have a stricter adherence to the law than Brewster. The board has reviewed policy about residency, comparing its guidelines to other districts in the area and implemented significant changes to its policy, forms, and practices.

Mesika said the board understands the concerns some community members have and the intention is to help every Brewster resident register their child or children for net school year.

“When ideas a brought forward they are taken under consideration,” Mesika said.


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