School District Drops Discriminatory Policy Upon ACLU-NJ Challenge

March 11, 2014

Butler School District agrees in court to end policy that discriminates against immigrants that violated state laws and Constitution

The Morris County school district sued by the ACLU-NJ for refusing to end a policy that discriminated against immigrant families agreed today in court to stop requiring overly restrictive forms of identification for student enrollment, in accordance with the Constitution and established New Jersey law. The Butler School District said today in New Jersey Superior Court that as a result of the ACLU-NJ’s lawsuit, officials there will no longer fight changes to abandon its photo ID policy.

“We’re pleased that the Butler School District will finally change its policy to allow students to enroll without subjecting them to unlawful discrimination,” said ACLU-NJ Senior Staff Attorney Alexander Shalom. “We have said from the beginning that this issue should not have required intervention from a court, as the law unambiguously forbids barriers to children getting a public education based on immigration status.”

Butler’s policy called for parents to present forms of ID that they could obtain only with a Social Security number or valid immigration status, therefore singling out immigrant communities during public school registration. 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. Members of the Butler community contacted the ACLU-NJ to let them know of Butler’s barriers to enrollment, and when the school district said that it would not change the rule, the ACLU-NJ took the issue to court.

“Today’s agreement reaffirms the importance of our public schools in a healthy democracy and strong communities,” said ACLU-NJ Deputy Legal Director Jeanne LoCicero. “These types of impermissible restrictions cause stress and fear in families. Thankfully, parents in Butler can breathe a sigh of relief this week during Butler’s enrollment period, knowing that their children will not be blocked from their constitutional right to an education. From a local court in Morris County to the highest court in the country, the law recognizes the essential function of educating every child in America, no matter what.”

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 now regularly remind school districts each semester of their obligation to enroll all local students, regardless of immigration status.

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