Education

Lawyers object to Calif. school districts collecting citizenship info

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Civil rights lawyers say they’ve found 75 California school districts that ask for students’ citizenship status or other data that could signal if they are in the country illegally.

The lawyers, led by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights, sent the information to California Attorney General Xavier Becerra on Monday and requested that he warn schools that they should not be asking for the information.

“There’s no reason to ask,” said Deborah Escobedo of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights. “Because every child has a right to attend school regardless of your citizenship status, even if they’re undocumented. And that is clearly stated in the law.”

That established law includes, she said, the 1982 U.S. Supreme Court ruling Plyler v. Doe and the overturning of the voter approved Proposition 187.

Escobedo and lawyers with California Rural Legal Assistance reviewed forms that school districts posted online. Their findings, along with the letter to the attorney general, can be read here.

The lawyers found student registration and enrollment forms and emergency contact forms that ask for a student’s Social Security number, whether the student is a U.S. citizen, or if he or she was born outside the United States.

State education officials have reminded school districts not to collect citizenship data, and a bill in Sacramento would forbid schools from collecting that information.

Escobedo said asking for the information adds to the fear that undocumented parents already feel. She recommends parents who are reluctant to provide the information still enroll their kids in school, but tell the school that parents aren’t required to give that information to enroll.

The seven Southern California school districts on the lawyers’ list are: South Whittier School District in L.A. County; Banning Unified and Beaumont Unified in Riverside County; and Dehesa School District, Del Mar Union School District, Julian Union High School District and Santee School District in San Diego County.

Of those, Banning Unified was the only school district to respond to a request for comment.

Banning Unified’s superintendent, Robert Guillen, said he was unaware that his district’s forms asked for the information and they would likely be changed. An aide ended the call abruptly when asked if the interview could be recorded.

“We think in many cases this was an oversight from old documents,” said California School Boards Association spokesman Troy Flint. “But regardless of the reason, we shouldn’t be doing anything that chills the atmosphere for students to enroll in school.”