Under the Dome

Lawyers want investigation of NC school admission problems for immigrants

Lawyers for school-age immigrants who had trouble enrolling in public schools in Union and Buncombe counties last year filed a complaint Thursday with the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Right Division asking for an investigation and remedy to problems in those districts.

In a conference call with reporters Tuesday, lawyers with the Southern Poverty Law Center, Legal Services of Southern Piedmont, and the N.C. Justice Center described problems enrolling in public schools for unaccompanied immigrant children – children who have come to the United States without a parent or legal guardian.

Although younger than 21, those seeking to enroll are often told they are too old, are asked for paperwork they don’t have, or are required to take tests they don’t understand.

The lawyers said the Constitutional rights of these potential students are being violated because children cannot be denied access to public education based on their immigration status. Students lose valuable classroom time trying to clear these hurdles or give up trying to go to school, said Mark Bowers, staff attorney with the Legal Services of Southern Piedmont Immigrant Justice Program.

Because their experience indicates the problem goes beyond Union and Buncombe, the lawyers sent a letter to the state Department of Public Instruction and the State Board of Education asking for state action.

“No child present in North Carolina should be turned away from public school,” the letter said.