ACLU-NJ Sues Districts That Unconstitutionally Discriminate Against Immigrants and Children of Immigrants

12 districts across 10 counties requiring state ID in violation of NJ law is especially disturbing in current climate

MORRIS COUNTY — The ACLU of New Jersey filed suit against twelve school districts throughout New Jersey, spanning from Camden County in the south to Sussex County at the state’s northern edge. The school districts, scattered throughout ten counties, all require forms of state-issued identification that require Social Security numbers or valid immigration status as a condition for students to enroll in school, a requirement that New Jersey law clearly forbids.

At recent Township Council meeting, residents were concerned that out of town residents were registered in our school system, and it was brought up that the Board of Education does everything in their power to verify students enrolled in Parsippany-Troy Hills Public Schools. Parsippany abides by the guidelines. We are publishing this article to inform residents of some of the laws in the State of New Jersey.

The exclusionary policies are particularly disturbing in light of the climate of fear in immigrant communities, along with the number of schools that appeared on previous ACLU-NJ audits of discriminatory policies.

“New Jersey’s state Constitution calls for free public education, and that applies to every single child – no exceptions,” said ACLU-NJ Staff Attorney Elyla Huertas, who filed the lawsuits. “In a state where one in five residents is foreign-born, at a time when our president has made the exclusion of immigrants a key part of his policy agenda, it’s more important than ever for every school district in New Jersey to meet its obligations, both to New Jersey’s families and to the Constitution.”

The 12 districts, which include one charter school district, asked for state-issued identification that can only be obtained by someone with citizenship or a Social Security number:
•    Harding Township School District (Morris County) – Click here for copy of complaint
•    Northern Valley Regional High School District (Bergen County)
•    Bellmawr School District (Camden County)
•    Sterling Regional High School District (Camden County)
•    Winslow Township School District (Camden County)
•    East Orange Community Charter School (Essex County)
•    West New York School District (Hudson County)
•    Sea Girt School District (Monmouth County)
•    Watchung Hills Regional High School District (Somerset County)
•    Montague School District (Sussex County)
•    Cranford School District (Union County)
•    Allamuchy School District (Warren County)

State statutes, the New Jersey Constitution, and the U.S. Constitution, through case law settled since 1982, all forbid school districts from denying education to public school students based on their immigration status or the status of their parents.

The ACLU-NJ sued only the 12 districts with the most restrictive policies, but several others impose improper requirements that hinder enrollment by immigrant parents.

“Together, these policies add up to a quiet, daily injustice that allows discrimination to metastasize and that tells families, incorrectly and unconstitutionally, that they can’t access the fundamental rights they’re entitled to,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Amol Sinha. “Public schools exist to educate all of a community’s children. The stakes are too high to allow these unlawful and discriminatory policies to continue, especially here, especially now.”

In 2008 and 2014, the ACLU-NJ conducted audits of the state’s 560+ school districts to identify problematic enrollment requirements. Five of the districts sued today also appeared on the 2014 list of offenders, and two of those districts – Watchung Hills Regional High School District and Montague School District – were identified as having discriminatory policies both in 2008 and in 2014.

Sterling School District, Bellmawr Public Schools, Sea Girt School District, Watchung Hills Regional High School District, and Montague School District were on the list in 2014. Northern Valley, Watchung, and Montague were identified has having unconstitutional enrollment policies in 2008.

This is not the first time the ACLU-NJ has been forced to sue districts to ensure that all students who live in the district have access to school, regardless of immigration status. In the last four years, the ACLU-NJ has sued thirteen districts that had policies similar to those challenged today; in each instance the case settled after the district agreed to change its policy.

The ACLU-NJ calls on all of New Jersey’s school districts to remove unlawful barriers from their registration forms, and requests that the state Department of Education devote resources to ensure that school districts follow the constitutional and statutory mandate to educate all children regardless of immigration status.

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