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Immigrant Children Seek Access to NC Public Schools

PHOTO: This quote represents the basis of a federal civil rights complaint against public schools in Buncombe and Union Counties, alleging discrimination against immigrant teens. Courtesy NC Justice Center.
February 19. 2014
PHOTO: This quote represents the basis of a federal civil rights complaint against public schools in Buncombe and Union Counties, alleging discrimination against immigrant teens. Courtesy NC Justice Center.

ASHEVILLE, N.C. - Civil rights groups are asking the U.S. Justice Department to launch an investigation into two North Carolina school districts and how they handled the enrollment of immigrant teenagers.

The complaint alleges that Buncombe County and Union County Public Schools have discriminated against children by "denying, delaying or discouraging" their enrollment in school.

"Children have the right to access public education, regardless of where they were born," said attorney Christopher Heaney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. "North Carolina is not keeping that promise."

Heaney and others in the coalition represent two young people who are classified as "unaccompanied children," which describes kids who arrive in the United States without a parent or guardian to care for them.

A representative from Buncombe County Schools said the district cannot comment on a student's individual situation, but it believes "some of the facts outlined in the complaint are inaccurate." Union County Schools did not respond to a request for comment.

Although the two counties are specifically named, Heaney said, there are reports of similar discrimination in other school systems in the state.

"We also hope that schools work to make their policies more welcoming to students who are coming from other countries, who may have language barrier issues, who may not have family members around to help them navigate the school systems," he said.

Both minors represented in this case were denied enrollment at age 17 and told that they were too old for school. Under North Carolina law, all students under age 21 are entitled to a public education in the school district where they live.

More information on the complaint is online at southerncoalition.org.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC