A new and stern letter from the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice to the Alabama state schools chief has affirmed what many educators in the state already know—the state law cracking down on undocumented immigrants drove unprecedented numbers of Hispanic children out of public schools. (Hat tip to Fox 10 TV, which posted a copy of the letter.)
Thomas Perez, the assistant attorney general who oversees the civil rights division of the Justice Department, writes that the rate of absences of Hispanic children was triple that of other groups of students in the immediate period after the law, commonly referred to as H.B. 56, took effect last fall. He specifically points out high absence rates for English-language learners, who, by being out of school, "failed to receive the educational services to which they are legally entitled." And, Mr. Perez notes, the withdrawal rate for Hispanic students was 13.4 percent between the beginning of the school year and February of this year.
Justice Department folks also have been conducting interviews with Latino students in Alabama, some of whom reported being "singled out to receive notices or attend assemblies about H.B. 56, based on their actual or perceived national origin or immigration status," according to the letter. It also states that many Hispanic students—most of whom are U.S.-born—reported feeling "unwelcome" in schools that they had attended for years.
The letter seems to make very clear that the Justice Department intends to keep a very close watch on how Alabama's H.B. 56 directly impacts schools, even though the school-related provisions of the law are on currently on hold while the Obama Administration challenges the entire statute in court. Remember that Mr. Perez last fall demanded that nearly 40 school districts with sizable Hispanic enrollments provide data on withdrawals and absences to his office, which sparked a bit of feud between him and Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange.