Rights group demands Arizona schools not ask citizenship

(WMC Action News 5)
Updated: Aug. 14, 2020 at 1:35 PM MST
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PHOENIX (AP) - A national Latino rights group Friday, Aug. 14, warned two Arizona school districts that their practice of asking about citizenship and Social Security numbers on enrollment forms violates a Supreme Court decision that ensures children have access to public education regardless of immigration status.

The Mexican American Legal Defense Fund said it sent the letters by certified mail and email, demanding that Coolidge Unified School District in Pinal County and St. Johns Unified School District in Apache County revise their forms to comply with the high court’s 1982 Plyler v. Doe decision.

The landmark ruling in the case, which the legal defense fund argued before the Supreme Court, said citizenship should not be a factor in ensuring all children get an education.

Both communities are located in rural areas and have a substantial percentage of Latino students.

“It’s hard to say if this is intentional or if it ignorance,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF’s CEO and general counsel. “If they respond right away and change the forms we’ll be good. If not, we’ll go to the state, which oversees public education.”

Saenz said MALDEF had earlier contacted several other Arizona school districts, which he did not name, that quickly dropped requests for Social Security numbers from their enrollment forms when the Supreme Court decision was pointed out to them. Those districts did not specifically request information about citizenship status as well, he added.

Saenz said the group periodically conducts spot checks to ensure districts adhere to the high court ruling.

MALDEF told the Coolidge district in a letter it has “a responsibility to ensure that all students have equal access to an education” and are not deterred from applying “because the school district’s Student Enrollment Card contains incorrect or unlawful requests for information.” The letter to St. Johns used similar language.

The Coolidge district did not immediately respond to calls requesting comment left on voice mail at its numbers for the superintendent and business office. The St. Johns district’s superintendent did not immediately return a message to his personal voice mail.

The Supreme Court’s Plyler v. Doe decision sprang from legal action against Texas laws that attempted to keep children without legal immigration status out of classrooms or tried to charge their families tuition to compensate school districts for what they considered to be lost state funding.

The Supreme Court said those practices violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and denying any group of children a basic education would “deny them the ability to live within the structure of our civic institutions.”

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