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Feds issue updated enrollment guidelines

May 9, 2014

Delaware’s Enrollment Preferences Task Force (next meeting May 22) is currently pondering which questions may be asked on school applications (for example, before a charter lottery) and which may be asked only upon enrollment. See this post for more background.

In timely manner, yesterday the US Secretary of Education and the US Attorney General issued updated guidelines on enrollment:

Secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Eric Holder today announced updated guidance to assist public elementary and secondary schools to ensure enrollment processes are consistent with the law and fulfill their obligation to provide all children — no matter their background — equal access to an education.

The clarified guidelines are aimed mostly at making sure undocumented children are not prevented from enrolling in public schools. But Delaware’s top performing public charters tend to have incongruously low enrollment of low-income and minority students, whether undocumented or not. Delaware’s public charter, vocational, and other choice schools would be advised to read the guidelines carefully and review their supplemental application materials.

The English guidance documents:
http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/letters/colleague-201405.pdf
http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/qa-201405.pdf
http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/dcl-factsheet-201405.pdf

The Spanish-language guidance documents:
http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/letters/colleague-201405-sp.pdf
http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/qa-201405-sp.pdf
http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/dcl-factsheet-201405-sp.pd

For example:

Q-8. How can a school district distinguish between (a) information that it should or must collect, and (b) information that it may not collect because doing so may discourage enrollment or attendance?

A-8. There is typically only minimal information that a district is required to collect under state law for a student to be able to enroll, such as proof of age, immunization history, and residency within the district. Both the state and the district must act in compliance with the U.S. Constitution and valid Federal or state laws, including their obligations not to discriminate, or implement policies that have the effect of discriminating, on the basis of race, color, or national origin. In doing so, states and districts should also assess their current policies to determine whether they are doing anything that may have the effect, albeit unintended, of discouraging the enrollment of undocumented children, such as asking for immigration papers or social security numbers, or requiring a driver’s license or state-issued identification from a parent. Such practices and policies,once identified, should be changed to eliminate any possible chilling effect on enrollment.

This echoes the guidance from the Delaware Attorney General’s office:

While it may be advisable as the best practice for an RLEA to have a two step process separating admission and enrollment information, it is not legally mandated. Each RLEA has the legal responsibility to ensure that they are complying with state and federal law and in doing so they should review their application process and practices carefully to make sure they are consistent with the law and do not have a chilling effect on the enrollment. (emphasis mine)

Also from the new Federal guidelines, note that while districts may collect social security numbers, it may NOT deny enrollment if the number is not provided (so what exactly do schools use Social Security numbers for anyway? Why have them on an application at all?)

A school district that opts to request social security numbers should make clear in all enrollment and registration documents, including forms, websites, and communications with parents, that the provision of the child’s social security number is voluntary, and that choosing not to provide a social security number will not bar a child’s enrollment. […] Similarly, a school district cannot deny a student enrollment if his or her parent chooses not to provide his or her own social security number.

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