By Derek Newton
Apopka is a small community outside Orlando that is on the verge of being consumed by Central Florida sprawl and suburban planning but its agrarian roots and the impact of the Hispanic community are easy to see.
A stone’s throw from Apopka High School is the HOPE CommUnity Center which, “is dedicated to empowerment of Central Florida’s immigrant and working poor communities through Education, Advocacy and Spiritual Growth.”
As a landmark for immigrant families, it was a perfect setting for yesterday’s ACLU of Florida press conference at which we issued a report card on the unsettling practice of school districts not making clear that Social Security numbers (SSN) are not required for enrollment in public schools. In spite of federal law requiring it, many school districts, including several in Central Florida, are still asking for SSN on enrollment forms without stating the information is voluntary.
The result is that immigrant families may have to choose between sending kids to school and what they think could be in inquiry into the citizenship status of those children or other family members.
It’s would be a tragic choice especially considering no such choice is necessary. Since schools don’t need a SSN to enroll, there is no reason to put parents and families through that difficulty.
After surveying all 67 Florida districts, the ACLU found nearly half of those districts – 30 in all – received a grade of “C” or lower in how they ask for and handle SSN on enrollment forms. Eleven districts, including a handful in Central Florida, failed outright by making no effort whatsoever to comply with federal law on the use of SSN.
Based on our report card and press conference, several districts including Orange County (which received an “F”), said they would re-examine their enrollment form for next school year.