LEMOORE — Around 75 California school districts, including three from Kings County, were named in a complaint to the California General Attorney’s Office for allegedly asking about citizenship status or Social Security numbers during the student enrollment process.
The complaint was filed by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and California Rural Legal Assistance organizations, which believed the districts unlawfully inquired about students’ citizenship status or Social Security number during the student enrollment or registration process, despite federal laws that require schools to enroll students no matter what their immigration status is.
Lemoore Union Elementary School District, Pioneer Union Elementary School District and Corcoran Unified School District were the three Kings County school districts named in the complaint. In total, the school districts named come from 35 different counties in the state, and also include nearby Fresno, Kern and Tulare counties.
“We believe that there are in fact immigrant families who are keeping their children at home from school for fear of pending Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE ) raids and sweeps,” the complaint, filed March 27, states.
The complaint referenced Proposition 187, which was passed in 1994 and “sought to deny undocumented students access to our public schools.” According to the complaint, the aftermath of the proposition caused “chilling” effects that discouraged immigrant families from enrolling their children in school.
In the complaint, the organizations said they “found that many school districts have placed clear barriers with respect to the constitutional right of these children to enroll in school” by asking about citizenship status or Social Security numbers.
“Asking for a Social Security is often a proxy for seeking information regarding immigration status,” the complaint stated. “There simply is no state or federal statute or regulation that requires collection of this information for enrollment.”
Representatives from the Kings County school districts named in the complaint said there was either no longer an issue, or they are currently in the process of changing their practices.
Lemoore Union Elementary Superintendent Cheryl Hunt said the organizations who filed the complaint indicated they had viewed an enrollment document posted on the district’s website which asked if the student was a U.S. citizen. She said upon review of the district’s registration and enrollment procedures, she found no reference of requesting student citizenship status or Social Security number.
Hunt said the district’s board policies had been revised to reflect California School Board Association’s recommendations, and said the district reviewed the website and followed up with an email verifying that in fact their enrollment document does not request this information. She said after the district responded to the complaint, they were removed from the list.
“There is no outstanding issue with our district,” Hunt said.
On behalf of Corcoran Unified Superintendent Rich Merlo — who was out of state at the time — his secretary Donnetta Murray contacted the Sentinel to explain why the district was named in the complaint. Murray said the documents in question had been removed from the district’s website some time ago, but for some reason, still came up when anyone searched for the documents through a search engine, like Google.
Murray said the district did not know why this document could still be found, especially because there was no link to it from the district’s official website. She said the district worked with webmasters and were able to detach the file from the district’s name, and now there is no trace of the old document online.
Pioneer School District has also made changes.
“Since [the complaint], the district has taken steps not to collect information that is not required by the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data system or to gain information for appropriate program placement,” said Pioneer School District Superintendent Paul Van Loon in an email.
Van Loon could not be reached to further discuss in which capacity the district is changing its ways of collecting student information.