In May 2014 North Carolina Superintendent of Schools June Atkinson made a strong commitment to ensuring access to public education to all of North Carolina’s children, regardless of immigration status, in a letter instructing all schools to accept these students without delay. This groundbreaking letter stated that students cannot be kept out of school because “they are too old” or “they lack credits” or “they lack English language skills,” and schools cannot deny or delay registration while schools validate students’ documents. Atkinson’s May letter came just days after the U.S. Department of Justice – in response to a complaint filed by SCSJ and partner agencies – released guidance on May 8 that also reminds schools of students right to attend public schools without regard to their immigration status.
Now the Department of Public Instruction is backtracking on that promise. In a new letter that replaces the May 2014 directive, Atkinson does not directly address the many obstacles facing Limited English Proficient and/or undocumented students attempting to enroll in public school. Instead, the letter directs schools to read lengthy and complex regulations if they want to know more about how to deal with such students.
In response, SCSJ and our partners, including Legal Services of the Southern Piedmont, the NC Justice Center, and the Southern Poverty Law Center, released a letter to the Department of Justice informing them of the recent changes by the Department of Public Instruction. We have also sent letters to North Carolina school districts outlining precisely what is required by law in order to provide equal access to all children, regardless of immigration status.
“The Southern Coalition for Social Justice believes that all children are entitled to the sound basic education guaranteed by the North Carolina Constitution. It is impossible to see how children can access this constitutional right without access to the public schools charged with providing this education,” said SCSJ staff attorney George Eppsteiner.
SCSJ and our partners will continue to fight for full and equal access to North Carolina public schools for all children, regardless of race, national origin, primary language, disability, or any other factor. The Southern Coalition for Social Justice and our partners will continue to pursue the complaint with the Department of Justice about the struggles of immigrant students to register at K-12 public schools in North Carolina.
Post by Shoshannah Sayers and George Eppsteiner