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DOJ: Immigrant Students' Discrimination Lawsuit Against Collier Schools Should Proceed

Peter Eimon
Flickr/Creative Commons

The U.S. Department of Justice wants a federal court case over immigrant children in Collier County Schools to continue.

The school board asked a federal judge to dismiss the case in early September.

The lawsuit involves teens who say they were not admitted to local high schools because of their age and limited English skills.

The DOJ filed a document in court in late September, saying given that the court must take the families’ allegations as true at this point in the process, the plaintiffs have shown the school board violated parts of the Equal Education Opportunities Act and the Civil Rights Act.

The lawsuit said when six teenagers emigrated from countries, like Haiti and Guatemala, they were all denied admission to schools. Some were directed to adult English learning classes.

The families allege this deprived them of equal educational opportunities protected by law.

The Southern Poverty Law Centerrepresents the families. The center’s attorney Michelle Lapointe said cases like this are popping up across the country. 

“The DOJ has taken an interest in these cases because the policies of schools like Collier County that deny enrollment to English language learner students and immigrant students violate federal law,” she said.

The complaint also said at least 369 foreign-born minors in Collier County were in adult English classes instead of regular public high schools during the 2015-16 school year.

The school board has said referring students to English language and adult education programs is legal.

In court documents, its lawyers wrote “when persons such as Plaintiffs have been out of school or are years behind linguistically and educationally, placing them in high school would only cause them to fall further behind and set them up for failure.”

They wrote students are more likely to succeed in adult English classes instead of regular high school.

The school board also pointed to a county-wide policy that said the kids are too old to attend high school.  

The school board’s lawyer and the DOJ declined to comment for this story.

All parties are waiting for the court rule on whether or not the case moves forward.

Read the DOJ's statement

Topher is a reporter at WGCU News.