5/11 – ajc.com – Feds: Don’t screen students for immigration status | ajc.com

Feds: Don’t screen students for immigration status  | ajc.com.

Georgia Politics 4:48 p.m. Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Federal authorities are warning public school officials across the country not to inquire about the immigration status of their students.

Students flow through the halls during a class change at Dacula High School. Federal agencies say school districts must educate children regardless of their legal status.

Phil Skinner, pskinner@ajc.com Students flow through the halls during a class change at Dacula High School. Federal agencies say school districts must educate children regardless of their legal status.

In Georgia, state lawmakers considered legislation this year that could have run counter to the warning.

House Bill 296 would have required the state Board of Education to tally the expenditures, by school district, for illegal immigrants in kindergarten through 12th grade. That information would have been published on the state board’s website. But in accordance with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Plyler v. Doe, the state Board of Education’s rules prohibit school officials from inquiring about the legal status of students.

Supporters of tougher immigration legislation in Georgia have argued that the state needs to take action because illegal immigrants are burdening taxpayer-funded resources here, such as schools, hospitals and prisons.

The U.S. Justice and Education departments cited the 1982 Plyler v. Doe decision, which says school districts must educate children regardless of their legal status, in the warning they sent Friday.

“Recently, we have become aware of student enrollment practices that may chill or discourage the participation, or lead to the exclusion, of students based on their or their parents’ or guardians’ actual or perceived citizenship or immigration status,” the letter says. “These practices contravene federal law.”

The federal agencies’ letter does not say where these enrollment practices are taking place.

The letter also warns school districts they may not deny enrollment to students if they or their parents choose not to provide their Social Security numbers. Some schools use those numbers to identify students. A Valdosta schools spokeswoman confirmed Tuesday that her school district is revising its forms to clarify it is optional for students to supply that information.

HB 296 never made it out of committee this year. But its sponsor — Republican Rep. Josh Clark of Buford — plans to push for it next year. He said it’s possible Georgia school officials could discern whether students are legally in the country through the records they already request of them — including birth certificates — and still comply with federal law.

“As policymakers, we need to have an accurate tally of what it is costing the taxpayers as we educate those who are here illegally,” Clark said. “We can then have our options whether we perhaps sue the federal government and say, ‘Hey, you know what. This is your responsibility. This burden should not be on the backs of Georgia citizens, who are playing by the rules.’ ”

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