RENO, Nev. — Civil rights leaders in Nevada are condemning a new school district policy requiring background checks for parents visiting their children’s Reno-area schools, warning the practice could have a chilling effect on immigrant families.
The Washoe County School Board approved the policy in November requiring all school visitors to present a driver’s license or other government-issued photo identification card. School officials said in announcing the policy last month that the ID card will be used to conduct an immediate background report to check for sex offenders, warrants and people on the FBI terrorist list.
The American Civil Liberties Union and a half dozen other groups objected Monday in a letter to the school district.
Parents should feel comfortable participating in their children’s education “without fear of being caught up in a law enforcement dragnet,” said Tod Story, executive director of the ACLU of Nevada.
All Nevadans, “even parents who are undocumented or have been involved in the criminal justice system,” have a right to raise their children in public schools, he wrote. “Such a policy can only alienate vulnerable families and lead to distrust of the public school system.”
School district officials say they don’t intend to share any background information with federal authorities. But critics say federal law may require them to do so.
“An outstanding warrant, even for incidents as minor as a traffic infraction, could very well lead to a parent’s deportation,” the ACLU letter said. “By reporting visiting parents to law enforcement, the Washoe County School District will be complicit in family separations.”
It’s believed to be the first time a school district in Nevada has mandated photo IDs and potential background checks for students’ parents. “I don’t know of any other Nevada districts that take it this far,” ACLU of Nevada spokesman Wesley Juhl said Tuesday.
Clark County School District officials in Las Vegas did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
The ACLU and others filed a lawsuit against a dozen school districts in New Jersey earlier this year over enrollment practices the group said discriminate against the children of immigrants who are living in the country illegally. Those policies required state-issued identification for enrollment.
Erin Philips, president of the Nevada-based nonprofit education group Power2Parent, said the new policy will burden underfunded and overworked school staffs.
“Schools do not become the parent when children step into the schoolhouse, and we will not allow parents to be disenfranchised or to be forced to surrender their privacy rights in exchange for a false promise of safety,” Philips said.
Other groups signing the letter included Tu Casa Latina, DREAM Big Nevada and the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada.
Story said such policies fail to recognize the barriers many people face in obtaining a photo ID, including the homeless, transient families and other lower-income Nevadans who often struggle taking time away from work to go the Department of Motor Vehicles or paying for DMV services. He urged the school board to “stand up against policies rooted in fear.”
Washoe County School District spokeswoman Victoria Campbell said in a statement emailed to The Associated Press Tuesday that the district “hears and understands the community’s concerns.”
“We will be working closely with community partners to explain the policy’s intent and to clarify any misconceptions,” she wrote “We strive for schools that are safe and secure for all students and staff, and to make each school a welcoming environment for families and the entire community.”