As New Jersey students return to school this fall, it is important for families to know what is required to prove residency for the purposes of school admission. Just as important is an understanding of what is not required and when a school district is in violation of the law.
A prohibition against excluding undocumented students from public schools has been the law of the land since the United States Supreme Court’s Plyler v. Doe decision in 1982. While New Jersey has had regulations implementing that requirement, the Legislature passed a law this year requiring the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) to remind school districts of their obligation to follow the law in enrolling resident students, which means, among other requirements, enrolling students without questioning their immigration status.
Under the new legislation, the NJDOE must issue biannual notices to school districts to ensure they are aware of their obligation to enroll resident students “in accordance with all applicable statutes and applicable rules and regulations of the State Board of Education.” Under those rules and regulations, neither immigration status nor compliance with local housing ordinances or terms of lease can be used to bar admission to school.
Enacted on August 29, 2013, and in effect 60 days from that date, the law will require that a reminder notice be issued by August 1 and December 30 of each school year. The notice must include “information on the documentation that may be requested pursuant to State board regulations to demonstrate a student’s eligibility for enrollment in the district.”
Not specifically mentioned in the law, but equally important to district compliance with residency requirements, is information on documentation that may not be requested by districts. State regulations prohibit school districts from requiring or requesting:
- income tax returns;
- documentation relating to citizenship or immigration/visa status (except for students who obtain F-1 visas to study in the U.S. on a tuition basis);
- documentation or information relating to compliance with local housing ordinances or conditions of tenancy; or
- Social Security numbers.
The regulations also prevent school districts from insisting on a particular form of documentation, without considering all the information and documentation offered by an applicant.
“We urge the NJ Department of Education to prepare a notice that addresses recurring areas of noncompliance,” said Education Law Center Senior Attorney Elizabeth Athos. “We recently referred a complaint of districts excluding students on the basis of immigration status to the Department. Our experience has been that the Department will take corrective action when such issues are brought to its attention, but the provision of specific and concrete guidance could serve to prevent the illegal exclusion of students from school.”
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