The civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice recently sent a letter to each of Alabama’s 132 school districts, requesting enrollment and attendance information.
Stating that the DoJ believes Alabama’s strict immigration law, H.B. 56, might unlawfully discourage or prevent the education of children who are undocumented immigrants or whose parents do not have U.S. citizenship or legal residency status, the letter asked districts to furnish a list of all students who have withdrawn during this school year, along with their reasons for withdrawal, race, national origin, and English Language Learner status.
In all, the letter included nine separate requests for information related to student enrollment and absences. For example, it asked for a list of all students, by school, who have been absent without explanation since September 27. The DoJ requested each absent student’s race, national origin and ELL status.
The DoJ set a deadline of November 14 for all districts to provide the requested information, and stated the department will review the data to determine if legal action is necessary.
At issue is Section 28 of H.B. 56, which requires Alabama schools to determine the citizenship status of students. Section 28 was blocked by a federal judge in October, but prior to the legal injunction, it was in effect for about two weeks. During this time, schools around the state reported absences of Hispanic students nearly doubled, according to Politico. The superintendent of Hunstville’s schools went on Spanish-language television to assure parents that no legal action would be taken based on students’ immigration status, and the information was being gathered strictly for record-keeping purposes.
Eric Mackey, Alabama’s director of school superintendents, told the Montgomery Advertiser that full compliance with the DoJ could be impossible, given that schools do not keep records of students’ nation of origin and only categorize absences as “excused” or “unexcused,” not as “unexplained.”