SPLC files lawsuit after Alabama Department of Education refuses to release public records on impact of HB 56 on Latino students
It lasted for only a few days last fall, but school officials in Alabama were required by the state’s anti-immigrant law to ask families about their immigration status when they enrolled their children in school.
The governor and legislators claimed the law known as HB 56 wouldn’t affect school enrollment, but the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has reported that Latino student absences more than tripled – and remained high even after this portion of the law was blocked by federal courts.
But when the Southern Poverty Law Center, which is challenging the constitutionality of the law in court, tried to obtain the same attendance records reviewed by the DOJ, the Alabama Department of Education refused. Today, the SPLC sued the department for refusing to release the data.
The SPLC requested data on student enrollment for K-12 students before and after the anti-immigrant law was enacted. Under Section 28 of HB 56, school officials are required to collect immigration data from families when they enroll their children in school.
The DOJ requested and obtained the same records earlier this year, following reports that Section 28 chilled the attendance of Latino students. It reported that the data showed a decline in Latino student attendance.
“By law, schools must ensure the rights of all children to attend school free from discrimination, including discrimination on the basis of immigration status,” said Sam Brooke, staff attorney for the SPLC. “Section 28 interferes with that basic right. The legislature and the governor have claimed that Section 28 will not have any impact on enrollment, yet the Department of Justice is reporting that Alabama’s own data shows a significant and measureable decline in Latino students’ school attendance. Alabamians have a right to see the data for themselves, to know the impact this law is having.”
The SPLC lawsuit was filed in Montgomery County Circuit Court.
The records are needed to better understand the education crisis created by Section 28. A May 2012 letter from the DOJ states that “the data show that compared with the prior school years the rate of withdrawals of Hispanic children substantially increased.” It also states that HB 56 “diminished access to and quality of education of Alabama’s Hispanic children.”
Section 28 went into effect on Sept. 29, 2011, and was temporarily blocked by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Oct. 14, 2011. In June, that court issued its detailed ruling, emphasizing that Section 28 violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. The court also blocked most other provisions of HB 56 as being unconstitutional.
The SPLC encourages parents of children entering an Alabama public school for the first time during the 2013 school year to contact them at 1-800-591-3656 if they are concerned their immigration information or their children’s information will be unlawfully obtained.