NYC DOE team aiding homeless students has ‘leadership vacuum’

The special city schools team that oversees homeless students is facing a “leadership vacuum” and at the worst possible time — as thousands of migrant children without housing flood the Big Apple. 

With families continuing to be brought by the busload here from the border, New York City’s homeless-shelter system is at its breaking point, including with kids who need to be educated.

Meanwhile, at least eight top positions at the city Department of Education’s Office of Students in Temporary Housing are vacant or about to be — including that of its executive director, who gave his two-weeks notice Monday after eight years with the DOE.

“With more and more children being in shelters, it’s a little alarming there’s no one in that office right now,” said Lilah Mejia, an education advocate for asylum seekers.

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

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

His and other departures at the office have left a “leadership vacuum,” an advocate told The Post.

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

The staff exits come as more than 2,000 newly transplanted young asylum seekers without permanent housing have entered the city’s public-school system. That’s not to mention 100,000 of the city’s children who were already in temporary housing before the buses began to arrive.

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“It is critical for the DOE to have strong leadership, particularly at a time when there is an influx of new migrant students entering shelters,” said Randi Levine, policy director at Advocates for Children, whose focus includes students in temporary housing and foster care.

Close to two-thirds of city students living in shelters were already chronically missing class before this school year or absent at least one in every 10 school days, data show.

An MTA bus transport migrant children.
An MTA bus transports migrant children.

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

Students and their parents enter Anderson School on their first day back.
Students and their parents enter Anderson School on their first day back.

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

For example, while the department has committed to hiring 100 of the shelter-based school staffers to work year-round, it has not brought them on board so far, the advocates said. Currently, most of the staffers work on 10-months schedules excluding the summer, which may have hindered the city’s ability to prepare for back-to-school as the frequency of migrant buses sped up last month.

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

But Mejia, who is on the front lines of greeting newly arriving migrants, said she’s “never seen” reps from the Office of Students in Temporary Housing around.

“It’s another burden on our schools, on our parent coordinators,” Mejia said of the influx of homeless kids without more DOE support. “When we hear families are in need, another parent will say they need this, and it’s the community who helps these families.”

The Adams administration has touted its interagency plan to transition asylum seekers to the city’s school system. Rolled out in mid-August, Project Open Arms provides resources and services to the new arrivals 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 seeker resource navigation center.
Mayor Eric Adams tours the asylum seeker resource navigation center.
Robert Miller

DOE rep Suzan Sumer called the temporary-housing executive director’s departure “a normal staff transition.

“This important work continues while we immediately begin the process of hiring a new leader,” Sumer said.

She added that the office “leads vital work” — “none of which will be disrupted while leadership navigates a period of normal transition” — and that the DOE is “actively seeking candidates” for all of its vacant positions.

There are 350 employees throughout the Education Department who support students and families in temporary housing, according to the DOE, plus more than 100 social workers who were recently moved to district offices.

“We continue to make significant progress towards removing any barriers to success in the lives of our most vulnerable students, providing them with nurturing, supportive school environments where they can connect with one another, communicate with a caring adult, and access the resources they need to grow and learn,” Sumer said.

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