Schools Fear I.N.S. Rules May Increase Paperwork
School administrators who hire substitute teachers are concerned that rules published last year by the federal Immigration and Naturalization Service may burden them with a mountain of new paperwork.
The rules, which took effect in November, were intended to clear up concern and confusion among employers about the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act.
For schools, however, they appear to have increased the uncertainty surrounding substitute teachers.
After reading the rules, published last August in the Federal Register, immigration lawyers who have worked with school districts alerted the American Association of School Personnel Administrators to the potential implications for substitutes.
School employees are not specifically mentioned, leaving open the possibility that the I.N.S. could require school districts to reverify a substitute's employment eligibility every time he is called in to work, rather than at the beginning of the year, as districts typically do.
"In places like New York City and Los Angeles, you're talking about major headaches for school systems that are already overburdened,"
said Mark Bravin, a Washington-based immigration lawyer with Morgan, Lewis & Bockius.
"The more we looked at it, the more we realized this could be a tremendous problem," said Herb Salinger, the executive director of the association of school personnel administrators. "We want to fulfill I.N.S. requirements, but we feel this would be inordinately difficult to fulfill."
Mr. Salinger wrote to the I.N.S. in December, requesting a clarification of the requirements for substitutes, but he has not received an answer. (An I.N.S. lawyer would say only that the general counsel's office is considering the matter.)
"I'm sorry they haven't responded yet, but I fool our position is fair," Mr. Salinger said. "We're going to continue pushing until we make sure the situation is resolved."
The issue basically comes down to an interpretation of how to classify a substitute teacher.
Any time someone is hired, the employee and the employer must fill out I.N.S. Form I-9, which verities the employee's identity and eligibility to work in the United States. In most cases, the form only has to be filled out once. For the I.N.S., the key factors are that the employee is continuing his or her employment and has "a reasonable expectation of employment at all times."
The rules published in the Federal Register outlined a number of criteria for making those determinations, but the criteria cannot easily be applied to substitutes.
Part of the problem lies with the unpredictable nature of substitute teaching.
"Substitutes don't know from day to day whether they'll be hired," said Julia Bolz, a lawyer who works with Mr. Bravin. "They do know they'll have work somewhere down the line, but they don't know when."
School personnel administrators would like the I.N.S.. to clearly state that substitute teachers and other substitute school employees moot the criteria of a continuing employee.
'Not Easy To Decipher'
Most school districts process substitute employees the way Fairfax County, Va., does.
I-9 forms are completed at the time of hiring, along with other paperwork and details, such as checking references, verifying past employment, and running criminal checks, said Elizabeth Arons, the personnel coordinator for the Fairfax County schools and the personnel association's president-elect.
"I don't know of a district that doesn't clear employees prior to letting them work in schools," Ms. Arons said. "You clear a sub the same way you would clear any person about to receive a paycheck."
The one-page I-9 form is relatively straightforward. But it comes with two pages of detailed instructions as well as a full-page listing of documents the I.N.S. considers acceptable to verify employment eligibility.
Along with such standard documents as a passport, a driver's license, and a Social Security card, the list includes 13 different I.N.S. forms. Employers who skip the form or fill it out incorrectly face fines as high as $1,000 per employee.
"They're not easy to decipher," Ms. Arons said of the various I.N.S. documents. "What do principals do if they're unsure of the credentials? They can't let that person go to work, and then they don't have a sub."
Furthermore, she said, it would not be feasible for substitutes to report to the central office and fill out new forms every day before going out to a school. Fairfax County, for example, covers more than 400 square miles.
Many Unaware of Implications
As all A.A.S.P.A. official, Ms. Arons learned about the potential implications of the I.N.S. rules from the association. But many school officials were unaware that the I.N.S. might require a change in the requirements for substitutes' paperwork.
"Given that we assign anywhere from 1,110 to 1,600 subs on an average day, that would be cumbersome, to say the least," Robert Fisher, who coordinates substitute-teacher assignments for the Los Angeles public schools, said, referring to the potential effect of the I.N.S. rules.
So far, there are no reports that the I.N.S. has targeted any school district for possible rules violations.
But, said Mr. Salinger of the association of school personnel administrators, "It's much better to do something before it happens than to try to correct it after it does take place."