November 25, 2020

Milbank Sues New York City to Secure Internet Access for Children in Homeless Shelters


Milbank LLP, in partnership with The Legal Aid Society (“Legal Aid”), has filed a class action lawsuit against New York City seeking to ensure that school-aged children living in New York City’s shelters have sufficient internet access to receive a sound basic education during the COVID-19 pandemic. As the complaint explains, children residing in shelters have suffered from limited and often non-existent internet access during the pandemic, interfering with their ability to attend school remotely. In the wake of a prior demand letter from Milbank and Legal Aid, Mayor de Blasio instructed City officials to install WiFi in all shelters across the City. But as the complaint alleges, City officials have failed to articulate an acceptable proposal that would remedy the issue in a timely way, consistent with children’s statutory and constitutional rights.

Suing in federal court on behalf of Coalition for the Homeless and the parents of certain minor children residing in shelters, Milbank and Legal Aid seek a court order:

  • Granting a preliminary injunction ordering the City to equip all shelters housing school-aged children in New York City with reliable internet access as soon as is reasonably practicable, but in no event later than January 4, 2021;
  • Directing the City to submit to the Court a comprehensive plan for how they will install and maintain WiFi access in every shelter in New York City to enable students living in shelters to attend school; and
  • Declaring that the City’s policies, customs, patterns, and practices concerning the provision of internet access in shelters violate the New York Constitution, the New York State Education Law, the McKinney-Vento Act Homeless Assistance Act, and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. 

The Milbank pro bono team includes Litigation & Arbitration partner Grant Mainland and associates Maria Ortiz and Isabel Pitaro.

Grant Mainland notes, “Homeless children’s lack of access to the virtual classroom has been on the City’s radar since the onset of the pandemic, yet these children are hardly better off today than they were in March. The time for action is now, before the 2020-2021 school year is written off altogether for the City’s most vulnerable children.”

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