Translated from Spanish.
My name is Estefany Sandoval and I am 18 years old. I want to share my experience when I tried to enroll in a school for the first time in the United States.
I came to this country with the great hope of getting an education, but for many reasons, I couldn’t do so when I lived in California and later in New York. When I came to Arizona, a lot of people offered to help me enroll in a school and I got very excited. They told me that I could attend a school near my house and soon my social worker made an appointment with the director of Glendale High School.
I was very nervous because I was going to realize one of my greatest dreams – to get an education. I thought that they might say “you can start tomorrow!” and when the director did actually say that to me, I got excited. But soon I realized that he was mocking me. He thought that my age, that fact that I didn’t speak English, and that in my country I only got to grade 6, was funny. He was laughing in my face and in between laughs he told me “don’t waste your time trying to enroll, there is no point. You can’t come to a normal school like this one.” I felt very disillusioned because I only wanted to study. After his comment, I felt that there was nothing left to do, and I left the school without hope.
A few months later, I received help from Demand to Learn, a campaign of the ACLU of Arizona. They told me that what happened to me was not okay – what Glendale Union was doing goes against Arizona and federal law. They explained my rights and after hearing other stories like my own, we decided to file a federal complaint with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. In the complaint, we demanded an end to the unlawful practices Glendale Union was using against immigrant students and asked that they enroll me in their school.
In response to our complaint, Glendale Union has entered into an agreement to comply with Arizona and federal law and give all district students the opportunity for an education.
The agreement includes many changes, such as:
- The district will revise its enrollment process to ensure that all students who reside in the district can enroll in their schools, regardless of English Language Learner (ELL) status, immigration status or age
- The district will not refer students ages 17-21 to a primarily online school but will allow them to enroll in their comprehensive high schools
- The district will not seek immigration status from either the student or parent/guardian
- Questions asking when the student started school in the United States or if the student is a refugee will be eliminated from the enrollment application
- The district will train its administration staff on the prohibition of discrimination based on national origin, age, and disability.
Glendale Union denied me and countless others the opportunity to get an education and be a part of my community. Now, these changes will help young people avoid this discrimination in the future.
I am very grateful for the help that Demand to Learn has given me. I share my story so that anyone going through something similar can have the courage to speak out. I know what it’s like to be rejected by a school. It’s not fair that schools can destroy our dreams. I’m happy my complaint was fully investigated and we were able to come to a resolution that protects the rights of refugee and immigrant students, and I hope that the same can be done with all others who have been rejected simply for arriving in this country seeking a better life.