NYC DOE team helping homeless students has ‘management vacuum’

The city’s special school team serving homeless students is facing a “management vacuum” at the worst possible time – as thousands of homeless migrant children flood the Big Apple.

As families continue to be bused here from the border, New York City’s homeless shelter system is stretched to the breaking point, including children who need an education.

Meanwhile, at least eight top positions at the city’s Education Department’s office for students in temporary housing are vacant or about to be filled — including that of chief executive, who filed his two-week notice Monday after eight years with the DOE.

“As more and more children are being placed in shelters, it’s a bit concerning that there’s nobody in this office right now,” said Lilah Mejia, an education advocate for asylum seekers.

“This is another slap in the face for them – who is there to help them?” said Mejia, also president of the parent-led Community Education Council 1 and a mother of six.

The office’s outgoing executive director, Michael Hickey, assumed the role in the 2018-19 school year, according to his LinkedIn page.

His and other departures at the office have left a “management vacuum,” a lawyer told The Post.

Purple Mejia
Lilah Mejia called the lack of top helpers a “slap in the face” for migrant children.
Steve Sanchez/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

The departures come as more than 2,000 newly resettled young asylum seekers without permanent accommodation entered the city’s public school system. Not to mention the 100,000 of the city’s children who were already in shelters before the buses arrived.

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“Strong leadership is vital for the DOE, especially at a time when new immigrant students are coming into shelters,” said Randi Levine, policy director at Advocates for Children, which focuses on students in temporary housing and foster care.

Nearly two-thirds of city students living in shelters were already chronically absent before this school year or absent at least one in 10 days of school, data shows.

An MTA bus transports migrant children.

An MTA bus transports migrant children.

El Paso migrant bus

A migrant bus from El Paso arrives at the Port Authority on September 15.

Students and their parents re-enter the Anderson School on the first day.

Students and their parents re-enter the Anderson School on the first day.

Advocates for Children hinted that the money is there to help them — more than $30 million in time-limited federal stimulus dollars earmarked for homeless children — but that the funds aren’t doing enough.

For example, while the department has committed to hiring 100 of the shelter-based school staff to work year-round, it has so far not brought them on board, supporters said. Currently, most staff are working on 10-month plans, excluding the summer, which may have hampered the city’s ability to prepare for back-to-school as the frequency of migrant buses has increased over the past month.

The DOE told the Post on Friday that it is hiring 75 of those coordinators and expects to hire them over the next month.

But Mejia, who is on the front line welcoming newly arrived migrants, said she “never” saw representatives from the Office of Students in Temporary Accommodation.

“It’s another burden on our schools, on our parent coordinators,” Mejia said of the influx of homeless children with no other DOE support. “When we hear families are in need, another parent will say they need it, and it’s the community that helps those families.”

The Adams administration has touted its interagency plan to transfer asylum seekers into the city’s school system. Launched in mid-August, the Open Arms project provides resources and services to newcomers through a partnership between the DOE, the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, and the city’s Department of Social Services.

Mayor Eric Adams tours the Asylum Seekers Navigation Center.
Mayor Eric Adams tours the Asylum Seekers Navigation Center.
Robert Mueller

DOE representative Suzan Sumer called the departure of the temporary accommodation executive director “a normal personnel change.

“This important work continues as we begin hiring a new executive immediately,” Sumer said.

She added that the office is “conducting vital work” – “none of which will be interrupted as leadership navigates a period of normal transition” – and that the DOE is “actively seeking candidates” for all of its vacancies.

According to the DOE, there are 350 staffers across the Department of Education who support students and families in temporary housing, as well as more than 100 social workers recently transferred to county offices.

“We continue to make significant strides in removing barriers to success in the lives of our most vulnerable students by providing them with a nurturing, supportive school environment where they can connect with one another, communicate with a caring adult and access the resources they need need to grow and learn,” Sumer said. NYC DOE team helping homeless students has ‘management vacuum’


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