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Administrators: SB 1611 places unnecessary burden on schools

Administrators: SB 1611 places unnecessary burden on schools

CREATED Jun 30, 2011

Reporter: Claire Doan
Web Producer: Layla Tang

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) – If the omnibus immigration bill SB 1611 becomes law, Arizona schools will be required to ask for documentation of legal status from students during enrollment and would have to report the information to local law enforcement.

Some school administrators, including Joseph Holmes, have said the requirements are yet another challenge to providing education, especially at a time when schools are already understaffed and under-funded.

"We have more problems than we can count right now as a result of the reduction in funding. We don't need to add more duties to the people in our office, our schools, when we are so stressed trying to meet the requirements we have already," said Holmes, who is principal at Magee Middle School.

Currently, the law only requires schools to demand "reliable proof" of a student's identity and age.  SB 1611, spearheaded by State Senator Russell Pearce, requires specific documents at enrollment to prove legal status, such as a birth certificate or U.S. passport.  If a person cannot provide documentation, the bill requires the school to notify the Arizona Department of Education as well as local law enforcement.  Holmes says that requirement to report legal status is a judgment call that he doesn't want to put his staff through.

"It would be up to our office staff to report that. Quite frankly, I don't want to put my people in a position where they're making those kinds of subjective judgments," Holmes said.

SB 1611 would not impact only K through 12 students. Community colleges and universities would also have to ask for proof of legal status, and they would not be allowed to admit any student who can't provide those documents. Parents of home-schooled children would also be required to show papers providing proof of legal status to the county school superintendent.

Opponents of SB 1611 have argued the bill may conflict with a 1982 Supreme Court ruling, which stated that schools cannot deny education to a student because of legal status.  Flowing Wells Superintendent Nick Clement said if SB 1611 passes, it could put public schools-- which depend on both state and federal funding-- at odds with the federal government.  

"We aren't an enforcement agency, that's not our mission. Our mission is to educate," Clement said and emphasized that funds and attention could be redirected to more important priorities. "We know that the best use of the dollar is to put as much of the budget as possible into your classroom."