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Alabama schools violating federal law by discouraging enrollment of immigrants

Written by Featured Organization on 09 June 2014.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) today notified 96 Alabama school systems that their enrollment practices violate federal prohibitions against denying or discouraging the enrollment of children based on their immigration status or that of their parents. In many cases, school enrollment forms require a Social Security number or a U.S. birth certificate, without explaining that such disclosure, under federal law, is voluntary and not necessary for enrollment. The SPLC also urged Alabama School Superintendent Thomas R. Bice to ensure that all schools within the state’s 135 districts comply with federal mandates by the beginning of the 2014-15 school year.

“It is well-established law that all children, regardless of their immigration status, have a right to attend our public schools,” said SPLC attorney Jay Singh. “Too many schools in Alabama, however, are not living up to their legal responsibility.”

Last summer, at the SPLC’s urging, Bice issued a memo to local school superintendents reminding them that the lack of a Social Security number, a birth certificate or a parent’s driver’s license is not sufficient to deny enrollment. However, more than 70 percent of Alabama’s school districts have failed to comply. Earlier this month, the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education issued guidanceoutlining the responsibilities of schools to provide equal access to educational opportunities regardless of a child’s or parent’s national origin or immigration status. 

News reports suggest that the Department of Justice has already had informal discussions with Alabama regarding unlawful enrollment practices. Even so, many schools continue to discourage the enrollment of immigrant children. In Morgan County Schools, for example, the SPLC found that the registration form requests the Social Security numbers of both the student and the parents – without providing the safeguards mandated by law.

The Blue Springs Elementary School in Limestone County takes matters even further by not only requiring a student’s Social Security number as a condition of enrollment but also asking, “Is the child Latino or Hispanic?”

“Schools across Alabama continue to embrace unlawful enrollment policies with impunity – policies that obstruct immigrant students’ path to the schoolhouse door and that remain in place despite recent state and federal guidance and 30-plus years of case law that preserves all students’ right of access to an education,” Singh said.

In April, the SPLC intervened on behalf of a 17-year-old Latino student who was denied enrollment at Fort Payne High School without legal justification. The school system took immediate action to enroll the student.

More than 30 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Plyler v. Doe that it is unconstitutional to deny a child present in the United States a public education based on his or her immigration status.

To ensure that enrollment in public school is not chilled, federal law requires that schools requesting a Social Security number must: (1) indicate that disclosing the number is voluntary; (2) provide the statutory or other basis upon which it is seeking the number; and (3) explain how the number will be used.