SPLC targets Fort Payne schools over discrimination - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

SPLC targets Fort Payne schools over discrimination

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The SPLC is targeting Fort Payne schools over discrimination for not enrolling a 17-year-old Latino who moved to the area in January. (Source: MGN online) The SPLC is targeting Fort Payne schools over discrimination for not enrolling a 17-year-old Latino who moved to the area in January. (Source: MGN online)

The Southern Poverty Law Center is targeting Fort Payne schools over discrimination for not enrolling a 17-year-old Latino who moved to the area in January.

The SPLC is demanding that the superintendent of the school system end discriminatory enrollment practices. They said the student was turned away from Fort Payne High School twice and missed almost a semester of school.

In a letter to Superintendent Jim Cunningham, the SPLC described how the teen was denied enrollment without any legal justification, even after the student's family met with the superintendent. The SPLC said the school system's practices violate federal law that bars discrimination based on national origin, immigration status or limited English proficiency.

The SPLC has instructed the district to enroll the student by April 14.

"Fort Payne school officials have stood in the way of our client getting an education simply because he was born in Mexico," said Caren Short, SPLC staff attorney. "These discriminatory practices have already cost our client valuable class time. It must stop."

The student, identified as J.T. in the letter, attempted to enroll at Fort Payne High School on Jan. 31 after moving to Alabama. The teen, who immigrated to the United States from Mexico when he was 1-year-old, brought a completed enrollment application, proof of residency in the school district, an immunization record and a Social Security card, according to the letter. 

According to the SPLC, the principal did not look at the documents. After the student said he had to make up two failed classes from the previous year, the principal of the high school said he couldn't enroll him. The SPLC said this excuse has no basis in district or state education policy and violates the nondiscrimination policies of the Alabama Department of Education and the district.

The SPLC said the student's parents did not speak English and the family was not offered an interpreter during their discussions with school staff. J.T. served as the family's interpreter and was not given enough time to explain what was happening, according to the letter.

After unsuccessfully meeting with school leaders, the family was not allowed to meet with the superintendent and the office refused to provide written notice explaining why the student was denied enrollment, according to the SPLC. The family has not since heard from school leaders.

"It makes me feel like I dropped out," J.T. said in a statement. "It's like I have nothing to accomplish. I just feel worthless."

Cunningham released the following statement:

"Federal confidentiality laws prohibits the System from disclosing personally identifiable student information or from issuing any public response to the enrollment concern that has been presented to me.  However, I can unequivocally confirm that the Fort Payne City School System in no manner utilizes or considers an individual's national origin in its enrollment decisions.  Indeed, even a cursory review of the System's current student population, confirms the enrollment of a diverse student body.

The representative for the individual at issue has been specifically advised that he is more than welcome to immediately enroll into the System subject to the same enrollment criteria applicable to any individual such as himself that is over the age of mandatory school attendance.  The individual has been requested to meet with the System this week in order to facilitate the enrollment request."

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