An update on MALDEF's stand against the violation of children's rights to an education. A sentence that stands out and is oftentimes forgotten:
"Denying students an education implicates the important constitutional rights to due process and equal protection of the laws, as well as a number of other state law protections. School districts, especially those on the U.S.-Mexico border where families and friends often live on both sides of the border, should be mindful of those rights."
FOR IMMEDIATE DISTRIBUTION
October 2, 2009
David Hinojosa, MALDEF: 210-224-5476
Pedro S. Cruz, TRLA: 956-423-3111
SAN ANTONIO, TX – Today, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) and Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA) strongly criticized Texas school districts seeking to exclude students from enrollment based on allegations that the students do not reside within school district boundaries. MALDEF and TRLA are working to inform parents, students and educators of the legal rights of students attending public schools in Texas and the state and local requirements that school districts must adhere to governing student enrollment.
Earlier this school year, the San Felipe Del Rio Consolidated Independent School District (SFDR) stopped parents at the border coming from Mexico to the U.S. and gave those parents a letter informing the parents that their children were being withdrawn from school because the school district assumed those children did not live within the district’s boundaries. Ignoring the bi-national community ties between Del Rio, Texas and Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, SFDR’s sole basis for this charge of non-residency was that the children were seen coming from Mexico that particular morning. Reports indicate that SFDR may not have removed students from school but allegedly did continue to ask parents for additional documentation proving residency within the district, documents that were above and beyond the district’s own policy. Most recently, the Laredo Times reported that United I.S.D. is also considering other extreme measures to keep children from attending school, including possible home inspections.
In 1982, MALDEF won a historic victory in the U.S. Supreme Court case,
Plyler v. Doe. The Plyler decision held that undocumented children who live in the U.S. have a constitutional right to attend schools here in the U.S. School districts
that attempt to circumvent the Plyler ruling by targeting certain students with “admission” policies that violate state enrollment residency laws or the spirit of
Plyler may also be violating the U.S. Constitution.
MALDEF and TRLA have attached to this press release a statement of the rights of parents and guardians to enroll their children in Texas public schools. You can also find this document by going to:
Founded in 1968, MALDEF, the nation’s leading Latino legal civil rights organization, promotes and protects the rights of Latinos through litigation, advocacy, community education and outreach, leadership development, and higher education scholarships. For more information on MALDEF, please visit:
Established in 1970, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Inc. (TRLA) is a nonprofit organization that provides free legal services to low-income and disadvantaged clients in a 68-county service area. TRLA’s mission is to promote the dignity, self-sufficiency, safety and stability of low-income Texans by providing high-quality legal assistance and related educational services. For more information on TRLA, please visit: www.trla.org
PARENTS’ RIGHTS TO ENROLL CHILDREN IN TEXAS PUBLIC SCHOOLS
Residency Law in Texas for Public School Enrollment
Although the general rule is that in order to attend a public school a child and his/her parent, guardian or custodian must live within the school district’s boundaries, there are many exceptions under Texas law. For example, children may attend the school where their grandparent resides if the grandparent provides substantial afterschool care for the children. Children who live with one parent
in one district, but whose noncustodial parent resides in another, may attend school in the noncustodial parent’s district. Homeless and foster children, among others, are also covered by exceptions to the general rule.
Documentation to Prove Residency
School districts cannot circumvent Texas residency laws by requiring parents to present unreasonable documentation to prove residency. Instead, districts must offer alternative ways to prove residency. For instance, some families live with other families and therefore cannot produce a utility bill in the parent’s name; in such situations, districts should accept statements from the parents indicating where they live and with whom they live. For separated or unmarried parents, districts should not require parents to present a child custody court order, which would force parents to file for divorce or custody. For children who live with nonparents or non-legal guardians, districts should accept powers of attorneys as proof that the nonparent or non-legal guardian has control over the child’s education.
Parents, however, should be aware that falsely claiming residency within a district could result in grave criminal and civil penalties.
Wasting Tax Dollars to Defend Lawsuits
Taxpayers should not have to foot the legal bills in the event a lawsuit is filed to protect the rights of students and parents
who have valid grounds for attending schools within a district. School officials and members of boards of trustees subject their school districts to substantial legal fees when they violate the rights of children and parents under state and federal law.
Rights of Parents, Guardians, Custodians and Children
No child should be withdrawn or denied an education without being afforded an opportunity to be heard, especially in light of the fact that parents and guardians must enroll students in school to comply with state compulsory attendance laws (with limited exceptions such as home-schooled students). In addition, parents have no obligation to stop at a school district checkpoint at the border and provide school officials with any information. Border Patrol and Customs officials also should not assist school districts or direct parents to stop at the checkpoints. Parents, guardians and custodians of students further are not required to allow school officials into their homes for an inspection of the premises.
Denying students an education implicates the important constitutional rights to due process and equal protection of the laws, as well as a number of other state law protections. School districts, especially those on the U.S.-Mexico border where families and friends often live on both sides of the border, should be mindful of those rights. MALDEF invites SFDR, United and other school districts to discuss reasonable residency policies and practices that will ensure that the rights of students, parents, and guardians are protected.
Should you have any questions, you may want to contact MALDEF’s Southwestern Regional Office at 210-224-5476 or TRLA at 888-988-9996.