"As a matter of policy, a school can't deny a place to an ELL student," says Meyer. But, she goes on, "we don't want to send a student to a school that doesn't meet his or her needs."

"It's not enough to say that 'we don't have a program,' " says lawyer and Brooklyn College School of Education professor David Bloomfield, a member of the Citywide Parent Council, which brought the civil-rights suit. "They need to have programs at the schools where the students want to enroll. Every school should have a program serving English-language learners, whether it's a bilingual or an ESL program. That's the law."

It's a bit like a chicken-or-egg situation, says Avitia, where schools wait until ELLs apply before setting up the programs, but until those students do they don't have those programs, so the schools can't accept the students. She feels that the new schools should have programs for ELLs from the beginning. But, says the New York Immigration Coalition, the Department of Education should be doing more than that. The coalition's new report, which is expected to come out in late December or early January of next year, found that workers at enrollment centers weren't even aware of translated documents that they had available or that there are phone interpretation services available through the Department of Education, and that most centers didn't have a mechanism for identifying parents in need of interpretation services.

Ralph Antony Louissant just wanted a school to take him.
Cary Conover
Ralph Antony Louissant just wanted a school to take him.

"What is being done at the enrollment centers is that there are far more translation services than ever before," says Meyer. "This year between July and October, we have more than tripled the number of requests for over-the-phone translations over last year. This is a step in a process of great, great improvement than ever before."

"The major problem is that the Department of Education is not monitoring and doesn't know which schools provide services," says Avitia, "and then the students are being sent back to the enrollment center. Or, worse case, they are keeping the students and not providing the additional services."

Not every family is like the Xavier-Louissants, who tenaciously kept going back and forth to the enrollment center, took days off of work and school, were lucky enough to find an advocate and reach out to her, and persisted until they got what they wanted: 16-year-old Ralph Antony is now, as of October 1, going to high school.

"I'm happy," he said. "I'm with my family and going to school."

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