Alabama education officials are ordering school districts across the state to adhere to new enrollment procedures that are meant to bar discrimination against students based on their immigration status or that of their parents.
In a letter last month to city and county superintendents, Thomas Bice, Alabama's state superintendent, wrote that all districts are to follow a set of practices that make clear to students and parents that Social Security numbers and birth certificates may be requested but are not required as a condition for enrollment in school.
Bice's order was in response to concerns raised in May by the Southern Poverty Law Center that 96 districts in Alabama violated federal law by, in many cases, not making it clear to students and families that providing Social Security numbers and birth certificates is voluntary.
The new enrollment procecures In Alabama also come on the heels of new federal guidance from the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice that spells out the legal obligations of school district officials to provide equal educational opportunities to all children who reside within district boundaries. Both federal civil rights law and the 1982 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Plyler v. Doe declare that states cannot bar students who are undocumented immigrants from enrolling in public school.
Bice wrote that districts must immediately use the new enrollment form and adhere to the procedures in the letter.
"No child is to be denied enrollment in any school or participation in school activities and programs based on the immigration [sic] of the child or the child's parents/guardians," he wrote.
This marks quite a change from just a few years ago when Alabama passed what was considered to be the nation's most stringent anti-immigration law, driving large numbers of immigrant families to pull their children out of public schools and leave the state. Though the law orginally required school officials to ask newly enrolling students for their citizenship status and report that data to the state, that provision, along with many others in the law, have been permanently blocked by a federal court.