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Old 05-12-2014, 10:23 PM
zebraforce zebraforce is offline
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Default Public schools must accept children regardless of citizenship, immigration status

Public schools must accept children regardless of citizenship, immigration status: DOJ

Published 13 May 2014

Last week, the Obama administration reaffirmed its position on public school education for children, regardless of their citizenship or immigration status. The state and district obligations regarding school enrollment are influenced by the result of the 1982 Supreme Court decision in Plyler V. Doe, which discarded a Texas law that denied education funding for undocumented children. Some states like Alabama and Arizona have passed their own education laws, but these have been superseded by the 1982 Supreme Court ruling.

Last week, the Obama administration reaffirmed its position on public school education for children, regardless of their citizenship or immigration status, with Attorney General Eric Holder stating, “public school districts have an obligation to enroll students regardless of immigration status and without discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin.” He added, “the Justice Department will do everything it can to make sure schools meet this obligation. We will vigilantly enforce the law to ensure the schoolhouse door remains open to all.”

The Education (DOE) and Justice (DOJ) Departments clarified their position on the matter three years ago, but have now issued a set of guidance documents which provide details of what schools can and cannot request from families when they want to enroll their children. Unacceptable enrollment practices include requiring Social Security numbers or birth certificates, but schools can ask for proof of residency in a school district.

In a letter to school districts, published by Politico, the two agencies wrote that they have recently “become aware of student enrollment practices that may chill or discourage the participation, or lead to the exclusion, of students based on their or their parents’ or guardians’ actual or perceived citizenship or immigration status.”

The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights has received seventeen complaints on school enrollment policies since it sent out a notice on the issue to schools in 2011. The Justice Department’s Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Jocelyn Samuels said the agency has also received complaints and is working with DOE to help provide assistance to school districts.

The state and district obligations regarding school enrollment are influenced by the result of the 1982 Supreme Court decision in Plyler V. Doe, which discarded a Texas law that denied education funding for undocumented children. The case also struck down a Tyler, Texas, school district’s attempt to make undocumented families pay tuition to cover the loss of state funding for their children’s education.

Some states like Alabama and Arizona have passed their own education laws, but these have been superseded by the 1982 Supreme Court ruling. Still, school districts are often confused on which enrollment laws to follow.

Jerri Katzerman, deputy legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), said some schools are just ignorant. “Often schools will say, ‘We didn’t deny any child.’ But we’ll ask, ‘How many children didn’t go through the process because of fear?’ It doesn’t create an inclusive, welcoming environment.” A 2013 SPLC study in Alabama found that of 124 enrollment forms representing eight-one school districts, not a single form was complying with federal law regarding requests for Social Security numbers. According to federal law, if schools must ask for Social Security numbers, they must detail how they plan to use the information and note that the information is voluntary, will be stored confidential, and will not interfere with enrollment decisions.

“We want to be sure every school leader understands the legal requirements under the Constitution and federal laws, and it is our hope that this update will address some of the misperceptions out there,” DOE head Arne Duncan said in a statement. “The message here is clear: Let all children who live in your district enroll in your public schools.”

Federal education laws also protect homeless children, allowing public school enrollment even when their families can not provide proof of residency. DOE and DOJ also stressed in their guidance documents that schools have to “meaningfully communicate material information about enrollment” for families that are not proficient in English. Schools often fail to provide interpreters, or translated materials, Katzerman said.
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