Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Complaint Alleges N.C. Districts Refused to Enroll Immigrant Students

The Southern Poverty Law Center has filed a federal complaint against two North Carolina school districts, alleging that they turned away two immigrant teens when they attempted to enroll in school.

The SPLC filed the complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division against the  Buncombe County Schools in Asheville and the Union County Public Schools in Monroe. The complaint also asks that the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (DPI) take action. 

Specifically, the complaint alleges that “unaccompanied children” who come to the United States without their parents are being discriminated against. The complaint emphasizes that refusing to enroll the students also violates the U.S. Supreme Court Plyler v. Doe decision, which concluded that states may not deny a child a public education based on their immigration status.

The complaint alleges that young people under 21 are being turned away or their enrollment delayed because of reasons including their age, immigration status and limited English skills. Some are being told they are too old, while the state provides education to all students under 21, or are told they are unable to learn on grade level in English. The complaint characterizes schools as having an “unwelcome, hostile environment.” 

The complaint alleges that “unaccompanied children” were turned away when their sponsor was unable to demonstrate that they were a child’s legal guardian or could not provide sufficient proof of address.

“In many cases, while there is no explicit dential of enrollment, the combined lack of language access services at the school, the complex paperwork given only in English, misleading information, and excessive wait times to receive responses from school staff effectively deny unacommpanied children enrollment,” the complaint said. It is in rare cases that immigration is actually cited as the reason for being denied.

In one example, “C.V.,” a 17-year-old teen-aged girl born in Honduras and living with a cousin, attempted to enroll unsuccessfully in Buncombe Schools in April 2013 and October 2013. Her parents still live in Honduras. The complaint alleges that the student’s cousin was told that C.V. could not enroll because she was too old to attend middle school and was not qualified to attend high school based on her education history. On her second attempt, she was referred to a GED program. She is now taking free ESL classes at a community college.

In the second example, “F.C.,” an 18-year-old teen-ager from Guatemala, came to the U.S. to join his parents. In June 2013, he attempted to enroll in Union County schools at age 17 but was allegedly told he was too old and referred to a GED program at a community college. The college told him he was too young. After several months he was able to enroll after taking an exam, but he felt it took too long.

An attorney with the SPLC told WUNC radio that the situations were not isolated and were “just the tip of the iceberg.”