The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey has sent a letter to superintendents in 138 New Jersey school districts advising them that their school enrollment policies are discriminatory and violate state and federal law.
ACLU senior staff attorney Alexander Shalom said district enrollment policies that require parents to provide a driver’s license or other formal identification discourage undocumented immigrant families from enrolling their children in school. He said he is hoping that most districts will just revise the policies without having to resort to litigation.
Included on the list are 11 districts in Atlantic County, two each in Cape May and Cumberland counties, and five in Ocean County. The Press of Atlantic City attempted to contact district officials Tuesday afternoon. Those who responded said they had not yet received the letter and were not aware of the issue.
“This is the first I am hearing about this,” Millville school Superintendent David Gentile said in an email. “I am going to investigate it further.”
Shalom said that since the majority of the state’s more than 600 public school districts and charter schools are able to register students without requiring photo identification, there is no reason the rest of the districts cannot.
“There are about 500 districts that don’t do this,” he said.
He said they are not accusing districts of intentionally trying to exclude undocumented children, but they will take districts to court if they do not change their policies. The letter asks districts to provide confirmation that photographic identification will no longer be required for enrollment.
The 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Plyler vs. Doe ruled that children cannot be prohibited from attending public schools in the United States based on their immigration status. New Jersey law cites age and residency as the only factors to determine eligibility for school.
The state Department of Education sends a reminder to districts each year on enrollment of immigrant students, spokesman Michael Yaple said.
The memo, posted on the department website, says that “school districts are prohibited from requiring students to disclose or document their immigration status, making inquiries of students or parents that may expose their undocumented status or engaging in any practices that ‘chill’ or hinder the right of access to public schools.”
Last month, the Butler School District in Morris County agreed to end its policy of requiring a government-issued ID from parents or guardians after the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the district.
In 2008 the ACLU cited 139 districts for requiring parents to provide a Social Security number or other proof of citizenship as part of student registration. Shalom said that issue appears to have been resolved, but the photo identification issue creates the same problem by asking for something undocumented parents cannot provide and thereby discouraging them from enrolling their children in school.
Contact Diane D'Amico: