Equity & Diversity

Conn. District Set Up Enrollment Barriers for Families With Limited English

By Corey Mitchell — November 30, 2016 1 min read
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The East Hartford, Conn., school system will overhaul its student enrollment and registration system after a U.S. Department of Education investigation found evidence that the district made it difficult for families with limited English skills to enroll their children in school.

The district violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color and national origin in programs that receive federal funding.

According to the Education Department’s office for civil rights, the East Hartford district failed to provide adequate language services to parents and guardians with limited English skills, and in some cases, instructed them to find their own interpreters in order to register students.

The district also translated fewer than half of its registration and enrollment documents into Spanish, the most common home language for limited-English proficient families. There were no translated materials for the English-language learners’ families who speak languages other than Spanish at home. Of the district’s 7,060 students, 14 percent are English-learners. Overall, 43 percent of East Hartford’s students are Hispanic, 37 percent are black, and 15 percent are white.

“Through this agreement, East Hartford Public Schools has committed to correct its registration and enrollment process to ensure that its schools are open to all students and that it treats all its students fairly,” said Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights, said in a prepared statement. “We will continue to work with the district to implement this agreement and support the district’s efforts.”

The district also required or requested that some students or their parents provide documents such as passports and social security cards based on assumptions about their national origin or immigration status. Such requirements can make it impossible for immigrants or refugees without documentation to enroll their children. Federal law prevents schools from requiring such documents to enroll students.

To comply with federal law, the district has agreed to revise its enrollment and registration procedures. The changes will include providing interpreters and translations to families and discontinuing the practice of asking for photo IDs and other impermissible documents during the enrollment and registration process.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.