Mexican Teen Denied Enrollment at Alabama School, Lawsuit Claims

| by Allison Geller

The Southern Poverty Law Center is suing an Alabama school district because a public high school allegedly refused to enroll a student because he was Mexican.

The SPLC claims that Fort Payne High School twice declined to enroll 17-year-old “J.T.” “simply because he was born in Mexico.” The teen moved to the United States at the age of 1, staff attorney Caren Short told CNN.

But when J.T.’s family came to the school after a move to Alabama from Colorado with “a completed enrollment application, proof of residency in the school district, an immunization record and a Social Security card," he was not allowed to enroll.

"The principal did not even look at the documents. After J.T. said he had to make up two failed classes from the previous year, the principal said he couldn't enroll him," the SPLC said.

Fort Payne City Schools Superintendent Jim Cunningham said that while he couldn’t comment on the individual case for legal reasons, he could affirm that the school did not use discriminatory practices.

"However, I can unequivocally confirm that the Fort Payne City School System in no manner utilizes or considers an individual's national origin in its enrollment decisions. Indeed, even a cursory review of the system's current student population, confirms the enrollment of a diverse student body," he said in a prepared statement.

He added that the student had been “requested” to meet with the school to discuss his enrollment.

The SPLC alleges that the school informed the family that it did not have to enroll J.T. because he was 17. Alabama requires schooling for children ages 6 to 17, but does not “grant the right to deny a child enrollment simply because he or she is 17,” the nonprofit said in a letter.

"This excuse has no basis in district or state education policy," the letter said. "It even violates the nondiscrimination policies of the Alabama Department of Education and the district."

"It makes me feel like I dropped out," J.T. said in a statement. "It's like I have nothing to accomplish. I just feel worthless."

Sources: AL.comCNN