Previous report card found half of state’s school districts misleading families about enrollment requirements. Asking for SSNs invades privacy, deters immigrant admissions

CONTACT: ACLU of Florida Media Office, (786) 363-2737 or
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July, 11th, 2013.

MIAMI – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida today released an updated report card grading all 67 Florida county school districts on their compliance with federal law and court rulings requiring notice that Social Security numbers (SSN) are not required for enrollment of a child in public schools, finding significant – though not total – improvement across the state.

After a 2012 report card found half of Florida’s school districts misleading families about SSNs and registration requirements, the revised grades reflect the changes many districts implemented after being contacted by the ACLU of Florida. Sixteen districts that failed on their compliance with the law in 2012 were able to improve their enrollment forms and obtain a passing grade this year.

“We applaud the efforts by so many school districts to improve their enrollment forms to comply with federal law,” stated Shalini Goel Agarwal, Staff Attorney for the ACLU of Florida. “Florida’s constitution guarantees every child a right to an education, and federal law protects students from being required to give a social security number to get that education. This year’s report card shows that this barrier has been lifted for many students in Florida.”

The 1982 United States Supreme Court case Plyler v. Doe held that undocumented children living in the United States cannot be barred from public elementary or secondary schools based on immigration status. In 2011, the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice and the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education advised school districts: “A district may not deny enrollment to a student if he or she (or his or her parent or guardian) chooses not to provide a social security number.” The advice also included, “If a district chooses to request a social security number, it shall inform the individual that the disclosure is voluntary.”

The report card scored the state’s school districts by taking into account three areas of compliance with the Plyler decision and guidance from the Department of Justice and the Department of Education: whether a district requests a student’s SSN; whether the forms clearly inform families that a SSN is not required for enrollment or that providing it is voluntary; and whether a district discloses the purpose for collection of and limits on uses of SSNs.

“This year’s report card shows a significant improvement in Florida’s school districts’ level of honesty with families about what is required to enroll in school, but the job isn’t finished,” added Agarwal. “Districts giving Florida parents the false impression that Social Security numbers are required for enrollment may violate federal privacy laws and keep undocumented children out of the classroom simply because their parents fear that their lack of a social security number will result in a review of their immigration status.”

Overall, this year, just 10 of Florida’s districts had clear deficiencies or did not comply with the required disclosure that providing SSN is voluntary. Highlands and Pasco were the only districts receiving “F”s, while Citrus, Gadsden, Hillsborough, Jefferson (Elementary Schools), Levy, Seminole, Walton and Washington obtained “D”s.

The school districts that implemented more substantial changes in their forms, passing from failing grade to “A”s were Brevard, Bay, Broward, Charlotte, Desoto, Hardee, Indian River, Jackson, Jefferson (Middle and High School), Liberty, Madison, Orange, Osceola, Putnam and Sumter.

The ACLU of Florida today sent letters to all 67 school districts, congratulating those districts that are following the law and urging changes in those that don’t.

The scores from the report card are available here:

A copy of the full report card as a PDF is available here:

An example of a letter sent to a school district receiving an “A” on the report card (Broward) is available here:

An example of a letter sent to a school district receiving an “F” on the report card (Pasco) is available here:

A copy of the letter to any district is available upon request.