"I have good reason to believe that the number we’re seeing now is the number that will remain for the balance of the year," he said in an interview with Patch on Friday.
Kennedy said he plans to honor a commitment he made to the Hauppauge school district to hold a community meeting about the homeless shelter within the district's boundaries, but he also said the county's hands are pretty much tied when it comes to the situation. The education of homeless children is primarily governed by a federal law, the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 1987. Among its statutes is a number of confidentiality requirements, such as the exact address of a homeless shelter and information about the children and families residing there.
"We are the at-the-ground-level implementor" of policy and procedure, Kennedy said, "but very little of this at all has been driven by legislative activity here at the local level. It is pretty much 100 percent occupied by federal and state actions."
Nor does the legislature have a say in the students' placement at Forest Brook Elementary, which has been the source of a controversy within the past week after parents questioned that decision, which was made by superintendent Patricia Sullivan-Kriss.
"I did it because, in terms of class size and in terms of the supports that are available to students in that school, it was the most appropriate school in which to place our children," Sullivan-Kriss said at last week's school board meeting.
Parents said at last week's Board of Education meeting that they were concerned that more homeless students would arrive at the shelter and be placed at Forest Brook Elementary, where they said class sizes are already overcrowded. That discussion led to two board members saying the class size policy should be discussed at an upcoming meeting of the board’s policy committee. Currently the school district caps enrollment in the primary levels at 26 students per class.
Kennedy said his office fielded around 200 calls last week from parents regarding the placement of the homeless students in the Hauppauge school district. He said there are currently about 450 homeless families in Suffolk County, and 1,000 homeless children being educated in schools across the county.
"Unfortunately, homelessness is an issue," he said. "There is no district
on Long Island that does not have some element of homeless children that are being
educated within the district."