After a wave of negative press, New York State Education Commissioner David Steiner is vowing that what happened to homeless Brooklyn high school senior Rosa Bracero will never happen again.
The New York Daily News first reported that Bracero was prevented from graduating because she was forced to sit through a seven-hour shelter intake process with her family, which had been evicted the same day as her Regents exam -- and the Board of Regents doesn't allow makeup tests.
The Coalition for the Homeless sounded the alarm and launched a campaign to force the city to hand over a diploma and change the disruptive requirement that kids be present for the shelter intake process even if it causes them to miss school. The campaign generated nearly a thousand letters to Mayor Mike Bloomberg, and MSNBC's Keith Olbermann named Steiner the "Worst Person in the World" for Tuesday, Feb. 9.
Steiner is working to shed that honor.
"I have taken immediate steps to ensure that this terribly unfortunate event cannot happen again," said Steiner in a statement. "I have spoken with Acting Commissioner Beth Berlin who heads up the State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, and Commissioner Robert Hess who administers homeless programs in New York City. My office will be supplying them with all State testing dates, and both Commissioners have assured me that they will take the necessary action so that Rosa's experience will not be repeated."
"[Steiner] pledged to sit down with us on this problem of homeless children missing so many days of school because of this ridiculous policy," said coalition director Mary Brosnahan in an interview with HuffPost. Brosnahan said Steiner assured her that Bracero will be allowed to graduate.
Steiner will also meet with Bracero and her mother on Friday morning. Bracero has been accepted to Lincoln Technical institute and starts classes next week.
Bracero's is probably not a unique case. There are 16,000 homeless children in New York City.
Here's Commissioner Steiner's statement:
A Message from the New York State Education Commissioner on Homeless Students and State Assessments
I am deeply concerned about the issues facing homeless children in our school system. I believe strongly that our system needs to support all of our children, and that homelessness should never be a barrier to educational achievement. With too many families throughout the State facing homelessness and so many struggling in this economy, it is critical that we get this right.
That's why I was so alarmed by the experience of Rosa Bracero. Because Rosa and her family were required to attend a seven hour meeting at the New York City Central Family Intake Center in order to receive help with their housing needs, Rosa could not take a Regents exam scheduled for that day.
When I first learned of Rosa's situation, in a story in the Daily News, I directed my staff to contact her school principal, guidance counselor and the post-secondary institution she was hoping to attend next, the Lincoln Technical Institute. We were pleased to receive confirmation from Lincoln that they accepted Rosa into their program and that she will be in her seat for orientation tomorrow and will then start her classes next week. I talked with Rosa's mother and will be meeting with her and Rosa on Friday morning. I have also spoken with Mary Brosnahan, Executive Director of the Coalition for the Homeless, who worked so effectively to bring Rosa's story to public attention. We have agreed that we will meet to discuss both this unfortunate situation and the wider issues affecting homeless children and their education.
I have taken immediate steps to ensure that this terribly unfortunate event cannot happen again. I have spoken with Acting Commissioner Beth Berlin who heads up the State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, and Commissioner Robert Hess who administers homeless programs in New York City. My office will be supplying them with all State testing dates, and both Commissioners have assured me that they will take the necessary action so that Rosa's experience will not be repeated.
We offer Regents exams three times every year -- in June, August and January. In the interest of transparency, the test questions and scoring sheets are available to teachers on the same day the exams are given with no restrictions on their use. That is why, unfortunately, we are not able to accept tests from students who take an exam after the official testing date, as Rosa did. Offering Regents exams three times a year is costly -- adding make-up tests to these dates would add millions of dollars in expense during a period of drastic fiscal conditions. The Board of Regents will however continue to review all aspects of our test structures and testing calendars.
The challenges Rosa has faced underscore for me our urgent responsibility to make equal educational opportunities available to every student.
David M. Steiner
New York State Education Commissioner