The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey has filed lawsuits against a charter school and four school districts, including Port Republic in Atlantic County, for what the group claims are discriminatory practices that place barriers to children of undocumented immigrants from enrolling.
The ACLU-NJ charges Port Republic requires parents or guardians to show a driver’s license as a requirement for proof of identity and residency in school registration. Undocumented immigrants cannot obtain licenses in New Jersey.
Port Republic school Superintendent John Davis said in an emailed statement Tuesday afternoon they have been informed of the lawsuit and it appears to be based on an outdated page on the district website that does not represent what they request when parents or guardians seek to enroll their children.
“The lawsuit does not allege that anyone has been turned away from enrollment,” Davis said. “We believe our registration practices are consistent with the guidance provided by the NJ Department of Education. It truly is unfortunate that in our small community our severely limited taxpayer dollars will have to be spent on responding to the lawsuit, when a phone call could have resolved this non-issue.”
A review of the district website shows it does ask for a driver’s license as part of student registration. Davis did not say if or when the website would be updated.
The lawsuits came after years of ACLU concerns nationally that families were being thwarted in their attempts to register their children for school.
In 2008, the ACLU-NJ cited 139 New Jersey school districts for requiring parents to provide a Social Security number or other proof of citizenship as part of student registration.
In 2010, the state Department of Education issued guidance to districts making clear that practices that could discourage enrollment of immigrant children are forbidden.
In 2014, the ACLU wrote letters to 138 school districts in New Jersey addressing the issue of driver’s licenses and other practices that could identify immigration status and discourage families from enrolling their children. Port Re–public was not in that group.
The current lawsuits ask the courts to halt unconstitutional school-registration requirements immediately. The group also asks the DOE to monitor districts and take swift action against those that violate the law.
“The ACLU of New Jersey can’t play a perpetual game of whack-a-mole with New Jersey school districts, and we shouldn’t have to,” said ACLU-NJ Senior Staff Attorney Alexander Shalom. “It’s the job of the Department of Education to make sure New Jersey school districts are following the Constitution, and they must take that duty seriously.”
A 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Plyler v. Doe, forbids school districts from excluding children from enrolling based on their or their parents’ immigration status. New Jersey has two requirements that families must meet when attempting to enroll a child in public school: proof of age and proof of in-district residency. Both federal and state law and regulations dictate schools cannot ask about a students’ immigration status or discriminate based on national origin or immigration status.