California Pressed to Stop Collecting Students' citizenship data
A girl watches during a workshop for immigrants to make a preparedness plan, in case they are confronted by immigration officials, at Academia Avance charter school where 48-year-old father of four, Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez, was recently arrested by ICE agents when he dropped off his daughter for school, on March 9, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez, a 48-year-old Mexican who has lived in the United States for 27 years, was arrested on Tuesday by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) near his children's school located in the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. His 13-year-old daughter Fatima Avelica recorded the arrest from the backseat of the car as she wept. / AFP PHOTO / DAVID MCNEWDAVID MCNEW/AFP/Getty Images
Civil rights groups asked California’s attorney general Monday to investigate dozens of school districts across the state that require parents to provide children’s Social Security numbers, their citizenship status and other sensitive information such as when they entered the country.
Requiring families to provide such information not only raises legal concerns but can cause a “chilling effect,” deterring parents, especially immigrants in the country without documentation, from enrolling children in school, said the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area and California Rural Legal Assistance.
While such questions have been on school enrollment forms for years, the Trump administration’s plan to aggressively enforce immigration laws has spurred opponents as well as schools and cities to reassess policies and protections in place for immigrant students and families.
Several Bay Area districts were among the 75 identified in the letter to Attorney General Xavier Becerra. Forms used by Dublin Unified and La Honda-Pescadero, for example, requested children’s Social Security numbers, while Antioch Unified asked if students were citizens at birth, and Orinda asked if students were U.S. citizens.
“Asking about and collecting this information when parents are simply trying to enroll their children in school is clearly unlawful and creates fear, anxiety and can deter parents from enrolling their children in school, ” said Cynthia L. Rice, a director at California Rural Legal Assistance.
“We strongly urge Attorney General Becerra to use the full power of his office to ensure that school districts immediately stop these practices,” said Deborah Escobedo, senior attorney at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights.
Such state action may not be necessary in many districts, where officials said they were unaware they had been asking parents for citizenship status or Social Security numbers — and vowed to immediately remove those questions.
“I’m just so appreciative that this was brought to our attention so we can fix it,” said Orinda Superintendent Carolyn Seaton, adding that the forms predate virtually all of the current administrators. “We want every child attending our schools to feel welcome, and questions like those just have no place on a registration form for any of our districts.”
In Dublin, officials said they were also surprised.
“District leadership was not aware that Social Security numbers were being collected as part of the registration and enrollment process,” said district spokeswoman Michelle McDonald. “We do not need to collect that information from students and will immediately cease the practice of doing so.”
Antioch officials said they ask if a student was a citizen at birth to determine eligibility for federal funding designated for English learners.
State education code prohibits districts from collecting students’ Social Security numbers unless required by state or federal law. No current law requires it, the civil rights attorneys said.
In fact, state and federal education officials — including the state superintendent, California School Boards Association and federal Department of Education — have advised school districts to refrain from collecting citizenship or Social Security information. Federal law requires states to educate all children, regardless of country of origin, legal residency in the U.S. or citizenship.
“Even if districts are using outdated forms, Superintendent (Tom) Torlakson continues to strongly discourage schools districts from collecting any kind of information related to immigration status,” said Robert Oakes, a spokesman for the state Department of Education. “And if schools do have any such information, they should not keep it on file. Schools have many other ways that they can verify a student’s residency in a district, and a student’s right to public education has nothing to do with citizenship status.”
In the past, Social Security numbers were often used as the student identifier in special-education programs, while the date of first enrollment in a U.S. school was used in a statewide database to track student mobility.
“It might be a vestige from way back when this information was requested and before there was a level of enlightenment ... as to the value of that information,” said Keith Bray, the California School Boards Association general counsel. “Clearly as our guidance points out, that’s not the type of information you should be gathering.”
In the La-Honda-Pescadero district, Superintendent Amy Wooliever said there is no reason for schools to be collecting Social Security numbers. The field will be removed from the district’s enrollment forms, she said.
“The fact that the request is on the form has not been brought to my attention until now,” she said. “Any (Social Security number) currently in our system will be deleted.”