Some central San Joaquin Valley school districts have been flagged in a complaint to the California Attorney General’s Office for requiring proof of a Social Security number or other personal information upon enrollment – a practice advocates say is harmful to undocumented families.
The complaint, filed by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and California Rural Legal Assistance, found that despite federal laws that require schools to enroll students regardless of their immigration status, 75 districts across the state have policies inquiring about residency at the time of registration.
“This is a time of great uncertainty for immigrant families in our state. Many immigrant families currently live in fear, as demonstrated by reports from our clients and news reports across the state,” the complaint, filed March 27, says. “We believe that there are in fact immigrant families who are keeping their children at home from school for fear of pending Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE ) raids and sweeps.”
While school districts cannot legally prevent a child from enrolling because of their immigration status, the existence of policies requiring this information can have a “chilling” effect on undocumented families and keep students from getting an education, the complaint says.
Representatives for several of the Valley districts cited in the complaint said Monday that they had already changed practices.
Kings Canyon Unified, based in Reedley, is the only district in Fresno County listed in the complaint. At the time of the complaint, the district’s website and enrollment forms said that parents must bring a birth certificate, a Social Security number and immunization records in order to register their child for school, but that policy has since changed.
Mary Ann Carousso, director of student services for Kings Canyon Unified, said that the district has removed the Social Security number requirement from its policy and softened the language in its policy regarding verification of student’s birth and age. But even prior to the complaint, schools were not denying students’ enrollment if they didn’t have those documents, Carousso said.
“If they didn’t have a Social Security card, they would indicate that and we would move on. In reality, nobody was ever kept out of school because they didn’t have a Social Security number,” she said. “We serve a very large immigrant community, and we are well aware that it’s been frightening and unnerving for people.”
No state or federal law requires school districts to collect Social Security numbers from students, but individual districts have different requirements for registration.
“Notwithstanding the clear legal protections afforded to immigrant children, we have found that many school districts have placed clear barriers with respect to the constitutional right of these children to enroll in school,” the complaint says. “Asking for a Social Security is often a proxy for seeking information regarding immigration status. Exclusion or other burdens imposed on individuals who lack immediate access to a Social Security number disparately affects individuals based on their national origin and is unlawful unless justified by a legitimate purpose.”
Following the election of President Donald Trump, state schools Superintendent Tom Torlakson urged districts not to collect documents related to students' immigration status as part of his push for districts to adopt “safe haven” resolutions.
Districts must verify a student’s age and residency, but have flexibility in what documents they use to do that. The California Department of Education suggests districts rely on baptismal records or an affidavit from a guardian to determine age, and pay stubs or property tax receipts to determine residency.
“With regard to Social Security numbers specifically, school districts have wide discretion in what records they use. Some schools collect those, others don’t,” said Peter Tira, an information officer for the state Department of Education. “Social Security numbers are not legally required for school enrollment. The California Department of Education does not collect Social Security numbers and asks schools not to send those numbers to the state when submitting student data and information because of student privacy concerns.”
Yosemite Unified School District, based in Oakhurst, is cited in the complaint for asking parents for a copy of their child’s Social Security card as part of its enrollment forms. An employee with the district said Monday that the district had revised all enrollment documents since the complaint was filed.
Tulare Joint Union High School District is listed for asking parents to provide proof of residency, such as a mortgage statement or electric bill. Corcoran Unified and Lemoore Union and Pioneer Union elementary districts, in Kings County, also were cited for asking about a student’s birthplace or if they are a U.S. citizen.
Corcoran Superintendent Rich Merlo said in an email Monday that “there was an area on the form for citizenship and is no longer on the form.”
Fresno Unified – the state’s fourth-largest district – does not ask parents for Social Security information.
“We don’t have anyone’s number on file or in the system,” FUSD spokeswoman Jessica Peres Baird said. “We enroll students no matter what their status is.”
A spokeswoman for Attorney General Xavier Becerra said that the complaint is currently under review but did not comment further.