Some Prince William residents have expressed concern over a Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) memo requiring that unaccompanied alien children be enrolled in school even without receiving immunization.
Written on July 25, and disseminated to all Virginia public school divisions, the memo states that children without citizenship, living on their own or with others in the community are considered homeless students if they have no fixed address or are staying in a temporary placement.
While most of the unaccompanied minors to have recently entered the country are being educated at private facilities paid for by the Federal Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), this memo details how to process those students outside of that system.
What Does the Memo Say About Enrolling Unaccompanied Minors?
The memo includes this statement explaining that homeless children must be enrolled and that the school division must provide them with assistance in getting them the necessary immunizations.
School divisions must immediately enroll homeless students and coordinate the provision of services to homeless students with relevant local social services agencies and other agencies and programs providing services to such students, and with other school divisions. In addition, division superintendents cannot exclude from school attendance those homeless children who do not provide the requisite health or immunization information required of other students. School divisions must immediately refer the student to the school division liaison required to assist the student in obtaining necessary physical examinations or proof of completion of immunizations.
The Response from Prince William County Schools
Prince William County School Director of Communication Services Phil Kavits said the district is not seeing an increase in its immigrant population.
He explained that public schools are prohibited from tracking a child’s immigration status; thereby, “consequently, we have no number or estimate of registrants related to the recent increase in unaccompanied minors crossing the Border.”
However, he added that, “PWCS is not currently anticipating any significant new influx or recent immigrants, whether documents or undocumented.”
Kavits agreed to look into whether PWCS will provide any specific plans to ensure that students have or get the required immunizations when they start school. He explained that the immunization issues are something the school division routinely deals with for all students.
Statements from the Federal Department of Justice
The VDOT memo was sent in response to the Department of Justice’s updated guidance.
The introduction to those guidelines includes a quote by Attorney General Eric Holder in which he reminds citizens that public schools have an obligation to education all students.
“Public school districts have an obligation to enroll students regardless of immigration status and without discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin. The Justice Department will do everything it can to make sure schools meet this obligation. We will vigilantly enforce the law to ensure the schoolhouse door remains open to all,” Holder said.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan also provided a statement, emphasizing that equal access to education is a constitutional issue.
“We want to be sure every school leader understands the legal requirements under the Constitution and federal laws, and it is our hope that this update will address some of the misperceptions out there,” said Secretary Duncan. “The message here is clear: let all children who live in your district enroll in your public schools.”
Additional Enrollment Guidelines for Virginia Schools
At the bottom of the VDOE memo is a link to more information on Virginia policies for school enrollment.
According to the portion on immunization, the VDOE policies explain that students whose immunizations are incomplete should nevertheless be enrolled, if they can submit a time line in which they will be completed. Additionally, students are not required to receive immunization, if it conflicts with religious tenets, or if the immunizations are detrimental to a child’s health.
Any child whose immunizations are incomplete may be admitted conditionally, if the parent or guardian provides documentation at the time of enrollment, that the child has received at least one dose of the required immunizations and has a written schedule for completing the remaining doses within 90 days. If the student requires more than two doses of hepatitis B vaccine, the conditional enrollment period shall be 180 calendar days.
The guidelines also include a section on homeless students, which provides the same statement as included above in this article.
FACTS SHEET on Recently Arrived Immigrant Children
Linked to the Guidelines document, a FACT SHEET on “Educational Services for Immigrant Children and Those Recently Arrived to the United States” provides some of the justification behind such laws.
“Schools in the United States have always welcomed new immigrant children to their classrooms,” the FACT SHEET begins.
It continues to say that the recent influx of unaccompanied minor children from Central America, but not living under DHHS or with their natural or adopted parents, should be treated as homeless students under the McKinney-Vent Act
- “The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act delineates educational rights and support for children and youth experiencing homelessness, including guaranteeing immediate access to a free, appropriate public education. Federal law identifies a number of living arrangements such as sharing the housing of others, in which inhabitants would qualify for purposes of the Act. Under McKinney-Vento, school districts must appoint a local liaison to ensure, among other things, that (1) children and youth eligible under McKinney Vento are identified; (2) that they immediately enroll in, and have a full and equal opportunity to succeed in, the schools of the district; and (3) they receive educational services for which they are eligible, and referrals to health care services, dental services, mental health services, and other appropriate services.
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