Bill could make it harder to enroll children in public schools, critics say

Photo via Getty Images

A House bill from a Yuma Republican would require parents, guardians or caregivers to provide proof of legal custody when enrolling their children in school, a measure that a civil rights group said could infringe on a student’s right to a public elementary and secondary education.   

House Bill 2367, sponsored by Rep. Tim Dunn, requires a parent or person enrolling a student in school to provide “verifiable documentation” that he or she has legal custody of the student. The proposal doesn’t specify which documents can meet that requirement, but allows the State Board of Education to set those guidelines.  

Arizona school districts are required to keep documents of its students’ identity, age and proof that they live within the district’s boundaries. The in-district residency requirement is determined by where the home of the parent or guardian who the student lives with is.

The Arizona Department of Education currently sets guidelines for what documents comply with that residency requirement. Dunn wants to shift that responsibility to the State Board of Education.

Dunn told Arizona Mirror his proposal addresses an issue in the Yuma Union High School District in which students saying they live within the district when they don’t. He said it’s reasonable to require proof of guardianship because some schools already require similar documentation for school pick-up. 

One of the measure’s co-sponsors, Rep. Michelle Udall, R-Mesa, said Dunn’s proposal helps close a loophole in which families claim a student lives with someone within district boundaries when they don’t. 

Udall chairs the House Education Committee.

Darrell Hill, of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, said HB2367 could have “unintended consequences” by placing an unnecessary burden on people’s ability to enroll in school. 

“The right to go to school is the student’s right,” Hill said. “That right stays attached whether or not the parent or primary caregivers can prove legal custody.” 

The ACLU opposes the bill, as does the education department and the Arizona Education Association. 

Department of Education spokesman Richie Taylor explained the agency opposes shifting responsibility of establishing documentation guidelines to the State Board of Education. 

“ADE follows state and federal law when creating such guidance and already has the existing means to communicate with the field,” Taylor said. 

Dunn said allowing the State Board of Education to set those guidelines will provide more consistency and allow for public input, instead of relying on directives from ADE administrators. He criticized an update in residency guidelines ADE issued last April. 

That update came a few days after the ACLU alleged the Yuma Union High School District was unlawfully requiring state-issued identification upon enrollment, shutting out eligible students, particularly children of migrant agricultural workers, homeless youth and those without lawful immigration status. The Arizona Republic later identified six other school districts with enrollment requirements that were seemingly in violation of state and federal law.

The ADE update reiterated that undocument students have a right to a free and public elementary and secondary education, per a United States Supreme Court decision in 1982.

Dunn said HB2367 is not intended to deprive children of their right to an education. Rather, it is about making “sure students are in the right district,” and that documentation requirements can be updated in a public forum, and not by ADE.  

HB2367 was scheduled for a hearing Wednesday in the House Federal Relations Committee, but the meeting was cancelled. 

The Arizona Grandparents Ambassadors, an advocacy group for grandparents raising grandchildren and non-parent caregivers, also opposes HB2367.