Significant Federal Guidance Letter Reminds U.S. Schools to Not Discriminate

By July 30, 2011News & Press

The U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Justice recently issued a guidance letter on the rights of all children to enroll in school. The guidance from their civil rights divisions is in response to student enrollment trends that, “chill, discourage, or exclude students because of their parents’ or guardians’ actual or perceived citizenship or immigration status.” Both federal departments want to send a clear message to educators and school administrators that equal educational opportunities to all children living within a district are the law.

Civil rights laws and Supreme Court mandates enforce that students cannot face discrimination because of race, national origin, color, and citizenship or immigration status. Information, such as social security numbers and race, must be voluntary, and not contingent for acceptance into a school. The U.S. Supreme Court case of Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202 (1982) noted that, “denying innocent children access to a public education, imposes a lifetime hardship on a discrete class of children not accountable for their disabling status. . . . By denying these children a basic education, we deny them the ability to live within the structure of our civic institutions, and foreclose any realistic possibility that they will contribute in even the smallest way to the progress of our Nation.”

A school district can only restrict attendance to residents that live in the district. They can require utility bills or mortgage or lease documents to verify residency. If the school wants a birth certificate to ensure age regulations, that is permissible, but a school must accept a foreign birth certificate without prejudice. All requirements for information collection and analysis must occur across the entire student body, not just for one specific group.

“It is refreshing that the federal government is stepping up to remind the school system of their obligations to kids and their communities,” said Houston immigration attorney Annie Banerjee. “No child should be barred from an education.”

The guidance encourages schools and districts to review their practices to ensure they are not discriminating. And if data is not necessary for enrollment purposes, districts can do away with these stifling practices and “create a more welcoming atmosphere for all prospective students,” says the “Dear Colleague” guidance letter.

The Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Russlynn Ali, General Counsel Charles P. Rose at the U.S. Department of Education, and Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Justice, all signed the letter and will enforce equal rights for all children to get an education.

The Law Offices of Annie Banerjee supports this guidance, and as an immigrant herself, she knows and appreciates the quality of education she received in the United States. She has more than 10 years of accomplished immigration law experience in Texas and helps individuals and families achieve their visa, green card, and citizenship goals.
For more information:
Law Offices of A. Banerjee
131 Brooks Street Suite #300
Sugar Land, Texas 77478
Phone: (281) 242-9139
Fax: (281) 242-2058

2027 Sheridan Street
Houston, Texas 77030
Phone: (713) 793-6339
[email protected]

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