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North Carolina schools discrimination complaint

Two North Carolina school districts discriminated against immigrant children by denying, delaying or discouraging their enrollment, incidents that appeared to be symptomatic of a larger problem of discrimination in school districts across the state.

The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal civil rights complaint describing discrimination at Buncombe County Schools and Union County Public Schools. The complaint urged the U.S. Department of Justice to launch a federal investigation into the school districts.

It also urged the Justice Department to require the districts to adopt a nondiscrimination policy and to provide training to ensure that the law is followed.

The complaint outlines how “unaccompanied” immigrant children – children who arrive in the United States without a parent or legal guardian and are placed in the care of a sponsor, such as a family member – were turned away from the schoolhouse door because of their limited English proficiency, age or national origin.

It describes how “C.V.” had hoped to enroll in high school in Buncombe County, N.C. – part of her plan to get a high school diploma and attend cosmetology school. But school officials twice denied the 17-year-old Honduran immigrant’s application. They told her she was too old, even though North Carolina law says all students under 21 are entitled to a public education in the school district in which they live.

It also describes discrimination faced by “F.C.,” a native of Guatemala who arrived in the United States without his parents but lived with them in Marshville, N.C. His mother is recognized as his sponsor. When F.C.’s mother attempted to enroll him in Forest Hills High School, she was told her 17-year-old son was too old for school. F.C. was referred to a GED program at a local community college.

At the college, F.C.’s mother was told her son was too young for the GED program and to try to enroll him in high school again. At the high school, she was told that F.C. – a native Spanish speaker who understands little or no English – would not be enrolled until after he took an ESL exam. F.C. was unable to complete the exam because it was in English. The person administering the exam helped F.C. submit an enrollment application that finally allowed him to attend Forest Hills High School in the Union County School District.

The discrimination encountered by these children is a violation of Title IV and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bar discrimination on the basis of national origin in federally funded public schools, according to the complaint. The complaint also notes that 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, regardless of their federal immigration status.