PHOENIX – Saying all students have a right to educational equity, the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona today launched a new bilingual campaign with resource materials, including a pocket card, a Web feature and frequently-asked-questions, that inform parents about how to enroll their children in public school in the coming months.

"The Constitution promises every child in the United States a right to public education; requiring proof of citizenship as a condition of enrollment breaks that promise,” said ACLU of Arizona Executive Director Alessandra Soler Meetze. “Even though schools across the state are out for summer vacation, we want to make sure parents are fully informed – sooner rather than later – about what information they’ll need to provide school officials when it comes time to enroll their children in the coming months.” 

The ACLU of Arizona’s public education efforts are in response to concerns raised by parents who were incorrectly told that they had to provide original birth certificates and Social Security numbers to enroll their children in school. In several instances, parents were not informed they could provide alternative forms of identification, such as baptismal certificates, previous school records and sworn affidavits. 

Through public records requests and information obtained on school websites, the ACLU gathered enrollment policies of 151 school districts across the state and found that in half of the cases, schools were requiring documentation beyond what is permitted by state and federal law. 

“No child should be turned away from the schoolhouse door because of their race, immigration or socio-economic status,” added Meetze. “Policies and practices that deny or restrict such access are unlawful and pose a substantial risk to public education for all children.”

In recent years, Arizona lawmakers have proposed measures requiring that public school districts determine the immigration status of their students at the time they enroll.  Although those efforts have failed, Governor Brewer signed Senate Bill 1141 into law earlier this year requiring all school districts to implement uniform residency requirements to confirm where students live relative to school boundaries.  This new law does not require gathering information on the citizenship status of students; it does require school districts and charter schools to determine that students who are enrolling are, in fact, Arizona residents and to keep residency information on file, a practice currently required by many school districts.

This summer, the Arizona Department of Education will formulate guidelines to establish what qualifies as acceptable documentation of Arizona residency. The Department will most likely allow documents already accepted by schools to confirm students’ Arizona residency, such as a utility bill or rental agreement.

The issue of educational equality has been addressed the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1982, in a case called Plyler v. Doe, the Court held that children have a constitutional right to a K-12 public education regardless of their immigration status. However, this right is widely compromised by discriminatory student enrollment practices that require families to provide proof of their child’s immigration status when registering for school.

For the first time since that Supreme Court decision, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and Department of Education (DOE) issued a letter on May 6, 2011 to school districts across the country reminding them of their obligations under Plyler and directing them to cease all enrollment practices that may chill, discourage or exclude students from school based on immigration status.

As a follow-up, the ACLU of Arizona sent a letter today to John Huppenthal, Superintendent of Public Instruction for the Arizona Department of Education (ADE), urging him to review ADE polices and those of Arizona schools to ensure school officials are properly trained and in compliance with both federal and state law. Read the letter.