Amid calls from some town residents to crack down on illegal housing, the Oyster Bay-East Norwich school district put in place strict new residency verification requirements for parents and guardians to re-register children, including consenting to unannounced home visits and providing names and birth dates for everyone in their homes — family member or not.
The new process, which began Feb. 3, also included an agreement to pay a $20,000 penalty if a student was found to be a nonresident, according to a letter sent to parents and guardians last month that also was posted on the Oyster Bay-East Norwich Central School District website.
The district, after concerns from parents, said it is now reviewing those requirements.
One of the forms sent to residents said, "You must list all persons residing at the above referenced residence" and "not just the family registering a student."
According to State Education Department rules, the requirements and request to re-register students don’t fall under the guidelines a district must use to verify residency.
“I don’t see anything in the law that provides direction to a district to ask these questions,” Jay Worona, deputy executive director and general counsel of the New York State School Boards Association, said in a phone interview Friday. “Perhaps there is some specific circumstance that occurred in this district that has placed it in a position of feeling as though they cannot comply with their obligation to ensure appropriate residency … but for asking these questions.”
The requirement in the affidavit for landlords and parents states, “You must list all persons residing at the above referenced residence not just the family registering a student.” The district did not comment on how that information would pertain to verifying someone’s residency.
In an email on Feb. 12, after several requests for comment from Newsday, Superintendent Laura S. Seinfeld said the affidavits were being revised to only request the names of guardians and the names and dates of birth for children. She added that, after residents' inquiries, the district decided to remove the word "required" from the affidavits as well as the $20,000 penalty and unannounced home visits.
“I’m happy to hear that this is a work in progress and that the district, in removing certain problematic elements of their form, is demonstrating their good intentions to comply with the law, and to not treat individuals within their community in a fashion in which they would feel demonized,” Worona said.
Seinfeld did not comment on the reason why the district, which enrolls more than 1,500 students, sought detailed information on everyone living at an address.
Months before the district's policy changes went into effect, there had been a discussion at an Oyster Bay Town Board meeting about “illegal housing,” airing concerns about too many occupants living in single-family homes. Some residents expressed rising frustration from residents about overcrowding in the schools.
Darren Gerbosi, a resident of Oyster Bay, said at the Oct. 3 town board meeting that the residents' concerns were "about landlord fraud."
“We … spoke at our last school board meeting to ask them [district officials] and they have implemented a program, one of the first on Long Island, to do a residency check,” he said.
Oyster Bay Town Board Councilman Lou Imbroto, chair of the board’s Quality of Life Task Force, said Thursday that the town and school officials communicate with each other about potential illegal housing.
“We’ve had numerous private meetings to discuss ways we can address the situation, and one of the ways we’ve come up with is sharing information with the school district and have them share information with us,” Imbroto said. “That way we can identify potential illegal housing situations and they’ll share situations of fraud.”
He said the town has helped the school district identify cases of “people fraudulently using an address,” and the school district has helped the town when they find numerous students using the same address.
Overcrowded dwellings are not only against town and state housing codes, but can be unsafe and unsanitary, Imbroto said.
The state Education Department has been clear as to what a district is permitted to ask of students and their parents when verifying residency.
As recently as 2018, the department sent a letter to district superintendents urging them to stop the practice of “mandatory re-registration,” saying that "the regulations do not contemplate the practice" even in cases when a student's residency is in question.
In 2015, after school districts across the state began refusing to enroll immigrant children who had largely arrived as unaccompanied minors, the department issued instructions stating that all children, regardless of immigration status, have a right to free public education.