NEWARK – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) filed seven lawsuits today against New Jersey school districts that have failed to comply with state and federal constitutional law requirements prohibiting discrimination against immigrant families attempting to enroll their children in school. The school districts sued today have maintained these discriminatory policies despite the ACLU-NJ’s repeated warnings to revoke them.
These seven districts, located in three New Jersey counties, all require government-issued photo identification as a condition of enrollment, contrary to clearly established law. The ACLU-NJ’s lawsuits ask the courts to halt these unconstitutional school registration requirements immediately.
“In the two months since the ACLU-NJ warned dozens of school districts about their unconstitutional policies, more than 100 of them responded commendably by scrapping such policies,” said ACLU-NJ Senior Staff Attorney Alexander Shalom. “In contrast, the districts we’re suing today decided to keep their restrictive policies, even after being notified about potential legal action. These seven districts impose policies that not only ignore clearly established law, but worse, discriminate. We won’t stand by and allow districts to continue these unlawful practices.”
Constitutional law forbids school districts from excluding children based on their or their parents’ immigration status. However, the registration requirements in the seven school districts include proof of identification that can only be obtained by people who have lawful immigration status.
The school districts the ACLU-NJ is suing have some of the most restrictive policies in the state. All seven require driver’s licenses or other comparable forms of identification. The seven districts that the ACLU-NJ sued are:
Camden County – Audubon, Gloucester Township, and Somerdale Park
Middlesex County – North Brunswick, Old Bridge Township, and Perth Amboy
Atlantic County – Galloway Township
In March, the ACLU-NJ discovered that 136 school districts imposed illegal barriers to immigrant student enrollment. In early April, the ACLU-NJ sent letters to all 136, warning them that they would face the prospect of litigation if they did not comport with the law. As of late May, 109 changed their policies, and 27 others did not. While the policies of the remaining districts range in degree of noncompliance with the law, the ACLU-NJ chose those with the most overtly discriminatory policies for the initial seven lawsuits.
“It is deeply troubling that in New Jersey today, public schools discriminate against immigrant families, and do so despite repeated warnings to come into compliance with clearly established law,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Udi Ofer. “Immigrant children have an equal right to access a public school education, and schools must not erect barriers that prevent the exercise of this right. The ACLU of New Jersey will not rest until all children in New Jersey are treated equally, regardless of their immigration status.”
New Jersey has two requirements that families must meet when attempting to enroll a child in public school: proof of age and proof of in-district residency. Both federal and state law and regulations dictate that schools cannot ask about a students’ immigration status, or, further, discriminate based on national origin or immigration status.
In May, the United States Departments of Justice and of Education jointly issued a letter reminding schools that their enrollment processes must provide all children with equal access to an education. The guidance specified that requiring driver’s licenses during the enrollment process is impermissible.
The ACLU-NJ began investigating the enrollment policies of New Jersey school districts in March, when residents of Butler, in Morris County, brought their restrictive enrollment policy to the organization’s attention. The ACLU-NJ filed a lawsuit when the school district refused to end its policy, and the district ultimately agreed to drop the restrictions.
“The law in this area is unambiguous: schools cannot impose restrictions on enrollment that discriminate unconstitutionally,” said Shalom. “We want all New Jersey residents to know that no matter what your background is, your children have the right to enroll in their local school district. And, we hope that every school district will be vigilant in ensuring that they provide equal access to children so that we will not have to resort to court action to remind them of their obligation.”
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