The American Civil Liberties Union in New Jersey is suing a dozen schools and districts across the state, accusing them of denying immigrants an education.
According to the ACLU, enrollment is restricted to students who can provide Social Security numbers or show proof of legal residency. If true, the districts would be violating New Jersey state law prohibiting discrimination in public education on the basis of immigration status.
NBC News reports that some districts named in the suit immediately issued statements condemning the litigation as baseless.
“The Watchung Hills Regional School District does not condition entry into our District based upon a student’s or parent’s immigration/visa status or any other discriminatory reason,” Superintendent Elizabeth Jewett said in a statement.
ACLU’s suit says alleged discrimination is “particularly disturbing in light of the climate of fear in immigrant communities.”
Much of that fear has been stoked by President Donald Trump’s immigration policy, which has targeted illegal immigrants along with permanent residents and Green Card holders.
“New Jersey’s state Constitution calls for free public education, and that applies to every single child—no exceptions,” said ACLU (New Jersey) staff attorney Elyla Huertas.
Other districts named in the suit include Northern Valley Regional High School District in Bergen county and several between Camden and Essex counties. West New York School District in Hudson is also implicated in the litigation.
Another half-dozen defendants from counties across New Jersey are named as defendants.
NBC’s attempts to procure statements from superintendents and district spokespeople went largely unanswered.
Northern Valley Schools Superintendent James Santana called ACLU’s claims “misleading “ and said his district complies with state and federal regulations on discrimination and equal access to public education.
“We are going to vigorously defend ourselves against these baseless charges,” Santana said in an e-mail.
Nevertheless, ACLU contends that the defendants published clear and potentially illegal enrollment requirements on their websites. Parents were asked to show New Jersey driver’s licenses or state identification, which the American Civil Liberties Union notes “is not possible for immigrants who lack Social Security numbers or a valid immigration status.”
Sea Girt Schools in Monmouth said they did retain document checklists on their website, none of which are reflective of current policy.
“As of this morning, we removed the misleading and inaccurate documents from the website that had not been updated to match the Policy and Regulation,” Sea Girt Superintendent Rich Papera wrote in an e-mail.
NorthJersey.com says that other districts retained requirements online but clarified that “no one document” among a list of possibilities “is required for registration.” The website adds that legislators and immigration advocates in New Jersey are pressing the legislature to pass the Safe and Responsible Driver Act, which would let persons residing in the state without legal status to apply for driver’s licenses.