Mattituck said to target immigrants

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07/29/2010 12:00 AM |

The Mattituck-Cutchogue School District is discriminating against immigrants when it asks that new students provide Social Security numbers upon registration, according to a recent report from the New York Civil Liberties Union.

Mattituck-Cutchogue is one of 12 Suffolk County schools listed in the report, which found that 20 percent of New York State schools require documentation for student enrollment that would reveal a parent or child’s immigration status.

Mattituck High School principal Shawn Petretti said that while Social Security numbers are requested on the district’s registration forms, they are not required for student enrollment.

But Jennifer Carnia, NYCLU spokeswoman, said even though the Mattituck-Cutchogue district doesn’t require a Social Security number for enrollment, asking for one could still deter immigrants from sending their children to school.

“If it’s not required, it should not be on the form,” she said.

Udi Ofer, advocacy director for the NYCLU, said there are only two eligibility requirements for student enrollment: age and residency.

Anyone between the ages of 5 and 21 qualifies for free education, he said, and schools may ask for proof of residency to determine if a student lives within a district.

“A Social Security card is irrelevant to the enrollment process,” Mr. Ofer said.

If a school district mandates Social Security cards in order for parents to register their children then that is “clearly unconstitutional,” he said.

The report, which the NYCLU issued earlier this year, was based on a review of student registration packets from 694 state schools. The group found that at least 139 of them ask for proof of a parent or child’s immigration status before a student can register for school.

“Though some of these school districts undoubtedly seek to exclude immigrant children, many of the offending districts are surely unaware that their registration requirements are discriminatory,” said NYCLU executive director Donna Lieberman in a press release.

She said since the NYCLU brought this matter to the attention of the state education department nearly a year ago, it has “turned a blind eye to the situation and refused to provide schools the guidance they need on the law and on the U.S. Constitution.”

Jane Briggs, a spokeswoman for the NYS Department of Education, said in a statement that as schools gather student information some questions might inadvertently prompt immigrants to resist enrolling their children.

“To prevent this from happening, the department will issue new guidance to all school districts clarifying their legal obligations regarding the registration of students, particularly with regard to immigration status,” Ms. Briggs said.

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