Mother's Request To Relocate Biracial Child To New School District Denied

Husband and Wife marry. Two years later, they have a biracial child. Husband and Wife sign a Settlement Agreement. Husband lives in Port Washington on Long Island, and Wife lives in Queens. When the child begins kindergarten, it is agreed that the Father shall have residential joint custody and the child will attend public school near the Father’s home.

A few years later, the Mother commenced a divorce action. The Mother, who by then had moved to Manhattan, asks the Court for permission to enroll the child in the United Nations International School (UNIS) in Manhattan. The Mother wants the child enrolled in UNIS because “the child’s educational and emotional well-being as a biracial child would be better suited by being in an ethnically and cultural diverse academic background.”

In Verfenstein v. Verfenstein, 95 NYS3d 856 (2nd Dept. 2019), the Court held that the “Mother’s contention that the child’s intellectual and emotional well-being as a biracial child requires moving the child from the Port Washington school district to UNIS is not supported by the evidence.”

While the Court acknowledged that a multicultural environment is very important for biracial children, there were several reasons why the Court denied the Mother’s request. First, the Mother acknowledged she did not know the percentage of biracial children attending UNIS. Second, the Mother did not introduce any evidence that the child had been denied his biracial identity in the Port Washington school district, or that his biracial status had prevented his development in the school district. Finally, the Mother acknowledged that she had “no issues” with the Port Washington school district, and that the child had excelled there academically.

Financial issues aside, what does this case show us that a parent must prove in order to receive court permission for relocating a biracial child to another school district?

First, the parent seeking court permission should know the percentage of biracial children attending the proposed new school. Better yet, the parent should have the statistician who prepared the data testify as an expert witness as to how the data was obtained and the methods used.

Second, the parent seeking court permission should introduce evidence showing that the child has been denied a biracial identity, or that the child’s biracial status hindered his or her academic or personal development, such as instances of racism or lack of opportunities within the school because of race.

Third, the parent seeking court permission should show that the child is not excelling academically at his or her current school.

At the end of the day, the court’s decision is based on whether it is in the best interests of the child to change schools.