Complaint to Justice Department alleges 17-year-old was denied admission to 8th grade.
ASHEVILLE, N.C. — Four civil-rights organizations have filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice alleging a 17-year-old undocumented immigrant was denied school enrollment because of her age and national origin.
The complaint, filed on behalf of two youths — one in Buncombe County Schools and the other in Union County Public Schools in Monroe, N.C. — asks the department to investigate and require that the districts adopt a nondiscrimination policy.
The compliant alleges at least two Buncombe schools employees denied a 17-year-old Honduran girl access to two county middle schools and was "therefore denied admission to school altogether," violating the Civil Rights Act.
One employee worked in a districtwide capacity and the second was at Valley Springs Middle School in Arden, N.C., according to the complaint.
Spokesman Jason Rhodes of Buncombe County Schools said the Justice Department or any of the other organizations that filed the complaint — the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center, Legal Services of Southern Piedmont, North Carolina Justice Center and Southern Coalition for Social Justice — have not contacted the district.
The school system cannot comment on any student or potential student's individual situation, Rhodes said.
"However, we do believe that some of the facts outlined in the complaint are inaccurate," he said. He would not be specific.
North Carolina law states all students younger than 21 are entitled to a public education in the school district in which they live.
A school administrator told the girl she was "too old to complete the number of credits required to graduate on time," according to the complaint documents. The girl was 17 at the time she applied, and would have been 21 by the time she graduated had she been admitted to the eighth grade.
While in Honduras, "C.V." as the document calls her, completed sixth grade and started seventh grade.
The girl came to the United States as an "unaccompanied immigrant" at age 16 in September 2012 by crossing the Rio Grande River. The girl now lives with a cousin in Arden, the document states.
Mark Bowers, an immigration lawyer with Legal Services of Southern Piedmont, said their firm has seen about 60 cases this year of students having trouble enrolling in public schools.
"We believe this is a widespread problem that can be addressed by policy changes and trainings, to let school employees know what children's rights are and what schools are required to do by the law," Bowers said.
Bowers and other officials with the coalition did not know what a school district's obligations are in admitting students at grade level if they won't graduate before age 21.
"Should the Department of Justice investigate the complaint, they will receive our full cooperation and we look forward to working with them on this matter," Rhodes said.