WEST ORANGE, NJ - The American Civil Liberties Union-NJ sent letters to 136 school districts, advising those districts that they "require overly restrictive forms of identification for an adult to enroll a child in school, contrary to state and federal law." The West Orange School district was included on that list.
According to the ACLU-NJ, the policies varied in degree, "some discriminating against children of undocumented parents, while other districts’ guidelines, such as those calling for photo ID without specifying that it be state-issued, prevented or discouraged undocumented parents from registering their children."
The ACLU-NJ letter advised the school districts to change their policies or face litigation.
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West Orange Interim Superintendent James O'Neill discussed the letter and its implications with the West Orange Alternative Press.
The registration requirement for students to enter the West Orange School district can be found here. The ACLU said that the following component of the registration process, requiring identification from a parent/guardian, was contrary to state and federal law:
• Please select one of the following from the list below:
Picture driver’s license
State or Municipal ID
Motor vehicle non-driver ID
"O'Neill said, "We will comply with the law, but we think the law and the ACLU do not recognize a few simple facts."
He then outlined his position and said, "We know we cannot discriminate against children and we do not in the registration process or any other process. Since we get many students from out-of-district, out-of-state and out-of-the-country, we do ask for identification from the adult registering the child."
O'Neill's said the district's rationale was simple: "Absent the parent’s identification, how do we know the person is the parent/guardian and not a relative? How do we know the child has not been kidnapped? How do we know the individual claiming to be the parent/guardian is actually the parent/guardian?"
Other district concerns were noted. "We pass this identification on to the school so they know who the parent is and therefore know it is OK to release the child to this adult," he said. "How would they know otherwise?"
O'Neill was clearly troubled by the implications for the children being registered and said, "If the ACLU believes that the best interests of the child’s safety is served by registering the child with no regard to the validity of the adults then so be it – but I do not think they should later come back and ask us why we registered a child when the adults seemed nervous or suspicious."
According to information provided by the Registrar's Office, O'Neill reported "For the record the registrar’s office tells me we have hardly ever had adults who could not produce a picture ID and we have no recollection of ever denying a child registration because the adult lacked a picture identification."
In summing up the the district's position on the ACLU-NJ letter, O'Neill stated, "In summary, we are aware the law precludes us from denying a child the opportunity to register because the family lacks appropriate documentation, and consequently we do not deny registration on those grounds; we do require proof of residency as allowed by the law; we have also required parental documentation because it helped validate residency and provides us assurances the child is in lawful hands. We have four weeks to comply and within the four weeks we will have modified the procedure appropriately or we will eliminate the section of registration found unacceptable by the ACLU."