NEWARK – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey filed a lawsuit on Friday, March 7, in New Jersey Superior Court against the Butler School District in Morris County, requesting an expedited hearing to halt the district from demanding parents present state- or county-issued photo ID to enroll their children in Butler public schools. The judge granted the hearing for Tues., March 11, at 9 a.m.
Because parents can only obtain the identification if they have a Social Security number or valid immigration status, Butler’s policy singles out immigrant communities in particular as ineligible for enrollment in school. While school districts may require proof of residency, the Constitution and state regulations mandate that public schools provide equal access to students regardless of their or their parents’ immigration status.
"The Butler School District continues to stand by a policy that wrongly blocks certain children from the classroom based on the immigration status of their parents, even though the law unambiguously forbids it," said ACLU-NJ Senior Staff Attorney Alexander Shalom. "Fortunately, most school districts operate within the bounds of established constitutional law, which for more than 30 years has upheld the right of all children to attend public schools, regardless of their background or origin."
On behalf of ACLU-NJ members directly affected by Butler’s policies, the ACLU-NJ seeks an emergency injunction to allow for their children’s enrollment during the enrollment period for the 2014-2015 school year, taking place between March 10 and March 14. When contacted with information that the photo identification requirement was unlawful, the Butler School District refused to rescind the rule.
In 2008, the ACLU-NJ conducted rigorous telephone surveys of the more than 500 school districts in the state and discovered that 139 of them (including Butler) required documents that indicate immigration status, contrary to New Jersey regulations and the U.S. Constitution. Officials from the New Jersey Department of Education, disturbed by the results of the ACLU-NJ study, now regularly remind school districts of their obligation to enroll all local students, regardless of immigration status.
"Because public schools play a fundamental role in strengthening our communities and our democracy, the New Jersey Constitution entitles all young residents to a public education regardless of where they or their parents were born," said ACLU-NJ Deputy Legal Director Jeanne LoCicero. "Requiring a parent’s photo ID is a needless barrier to an education that not only violates the Constitution, but also undermines the ideal that public schools serve all of the children in a community."
The case, captioned ACLU-NJ v. Butler Public School District, was filed March 7, 2014, in the Chancery Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey, Morris County. The hearing, MRS-C-42-14 on the docket, takes place in the same venue on Tues., March 11, at 9 a.m. before the Honorable Stephan C. Hansbury.