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Duke report: Despite federal law, majority of North Carolina school districts impeding enrollment for undocumented children

Despite federal laws that guarantee access to public education for undocumented children, the majority of school districts in North Carolina are impeding enrollment, a new report from the Children’s Law Clinic at Duke University finds.

According to the report, which was released Monday, about 60 percent of North Carolina districts “inhibit” enrollment in at least one way. Districts require unnecessary forms of identification, including the provision of social security numbers, or lack flexibility in how they determine proof of residency.

Such policies may stymie access for the state’s estimated 33,000 undocumented, immigrant children, the study finds.

“We hope that school districts will use this report to review their enrollment practices to ensure that they are compliant with the law and are welcoming to immigrant children,” Jane Wettach, director of the Children’s Law Clinic, said in a statement.

From the report’s conclusion:

In the United States, all children, regardless of immigration status, race, ethnic background, or native language, are guaranteed equal access to public education. However, across North Carolina, numerous public school districts have implemented policies and practices that discourage, and sometimes entirely prevent, the enrollment of immigrant children.

These measures violate the Constitution, federal law, and state law. As a result, these districts should amend their policies and practices to ensure that all students are allowed their right to enroll in public school and are welcomed there.

As the report notes, a pivotal 1982 ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court guaranteed public education for children, regardless of their immigration status. Yet, whether knowingly or unknowingly, policies ordered in many of North Carolina’s school districts may be a serious hindrance to that guarantee, requiring unnecessary documentation or specifying certain documentation, such as a certified birth certification, which may be difficult for some immigrant families to obtain.

Here’s a list of the report’s key findings here, which includes a set of recommendations that North Carolina districts provide information about enrollment requirements in easy-to-find locations and in different languages.

Other recommendations include:

  • Be flexible with regard to what evidence will be accepted to prove residency in the district.
  • Be flexible with regard to what evidence will be accepted to prove age. Districts should accept a wide variety of documents to establish a child’s date of birth and/or age, including religious documents and informal family records.
  • Refrain from requesting a social security number for a student or parent/guardian.
  • Refrain from requiring a parental photo identification as part of the enrollment process.
  • Be alert to children covered by the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act and assure they are enrolled in compliance with the law. Children of migrant workers, children whose parents have been deported, and immigrant children in “doubled-up” housing should all be considered homeless children and receive the enrollment protections of the McKinney-Vento law.
  • Be flexible and helpful when caretaker adults who are not the child’s parents seek to enroll a child.

More to come.

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