Departments warn schools against immigration bias

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WASHINGTON -- Despite a 32-year-old court ruling, school districts continue to raise barriers to enrollment for children brought into the U.S. illegally, the Obama administration said last week, characterizing reports of hindrances as troubling.

The Justice Department and Education Department issued new guidance reminding schools and districts they have a legal obligation to enroll every student regardless of immigration status. The guidance says schools should be flexible in deciding which documents they will accept to prove a student's age or residency.

The guidance also reminds them not to ask about a student's immigration status or require documents such as a driver's license, if that would prevent a student from enrolling because of a parent's immigration status.

The Education Department said it had received 17 complaints involving 14 schools or districts for possible violations since 2011. The only cases still open are in Louisiana, New Mexico and South Carolina.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in some instances, school leaders have inappropriately required information such as a child's visa status or date of entry into the United States.

Justice Department officials said they also have taken action, sometimes collaboratively with the Education Department and sometimes working separately. The Justice Department has entered into settlement agreements with school districts in states such as Georgia, Florida and Virginia. And it said that after it contacted officials in Alabama, the state education department sent guidance to districts spelling out that they may not bar or discourage students from enrollment because they lack a Social Security number or birth certificate or because their parents don't have an Alabama driver's license.

Officials from the U.S. Education and Justice departments said they have found that states and districts are willing to work with the federal government on the issue.

Children brought into the U.S. illegally are guaranteed the right to a K-12 education under the 1982 Supreme Court decision Plyler v. Doe.



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