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New Orleans schools violating federal law by discouraging enrollment based on immigration status

The SPLC demanded today that 55 New Orleans schools change their enrollment practices to comply with federal law. Many are illegally requiring Social Security numbers.

Maria remembers how she felt when her neighborhood school in New Orleans wouldn’t enroll her daughter because the child didn’t have a Social Security number.

“I felt really bad because it was the school that was the closest to my house and I didn’t know anything else about any other schools,” she said.

She eventually found a school that would enroll her daughter, but she doesn’t want another family to endure the ordeal she experienced after moving to Louisiana from Arkansas two years ago.

But other families have had similar experiences. Today, the SPLC and VAYLA New Orleans notified more than half of New Orleans public schools that their enrollment and registration practices violate federal prohibitions against discouraging the enrollment of children based on their immigration status or that of their parents.

The SPLC and VAYLA New Orleans, a multi-racial community-based organization that empowers youths and families, found that 55 of the city’s 83 public schools discourage enrollment. In many cases, enrollment and registration forms require a Social Security number, without explaining that, under federal law, such disclosure is voluntary and not necessary for enrollment. Many of these schools also conditioned enrollment on a parent providing a driver’s license or state ID, when federal law requires schools to be more flexible in accepting other forms of photo identification.

In letters to school officials, the groups demanded that the schools – largely run by 23 distinct charter management organizations and the Orleans Parish School Board – confirm by Oct. 31 that they have corrected the forms. Ensuring compliance with the law is especially important as the city’s highly competitive selective-admissions schools have begun the application process for the next school year.

“This discrimination affects all children, but particularly immigrant children with every right to attend these public schools,” said Jennifer Coco, SPLC staff attorney. “Regardless of status or nationality, these vulnerable children are a part of the fabric of our community and it’s in the best interest of not only the child but also the community that they be enrolled in a school and receive an appropriate education. And the law supports this notion.”

More than 30 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Plyler v. Doe that it is unconstitutional to deny a child present in the United States a public education based on his or her perceived or actual immigration status. The court noted that denying children an education based on their immigration status would create a permanent underclass.

No state law, regulation, or policy requires a child to have a Social Security number to enroll in school. State regulations even explain that if a child doesn’t have one, the school should provide an alternative ID number. Yet many immigrant families – regardless of their immigration status – have encountered problems enrolling their children.