The debate around counting the number of illegal immigrants enrolled in Frederick County schools has flared up — again.
Now that Frederick County has a new school board, commissioners have asked school officials to help them figure out how many public school students are in the U.S. illegally.
But school board members would not play along.
Brad Young, school board president, told commissioners Tuesday the school system already has done everything it legally can to accommodate commissioners’ questions about students’ immigration status.
“At the present time we don’t think we can go any further,” he told commissioners.
In January, school officials determined 94.3 percent of the county’s 42,826 students have an American birth certificate. Of the remaining students, 1.6 percent didn’t answer the question and 4.1 percent were not born in the U.S.
School officials cannot say how many of these students might be in the country illegally. A legal U.S. resident can have a birth certificate from a different country and another legitimate document proving legal immigration status.
Frederick County schools, however, do not collect that information, Superintendent Theresa Alban said. When a child is enrolled, schools only require proof of immunization, evidence of date of birth (such as birth or baptismal certificate) and proof of residency, such as a utility bill or a copy of the lease.
When Frederick County commissioners raised the issue of counting illegal students in 2008, school officials turned to the Maryland State Board of Education for advice. But state officials in 2009, ruled commissioners have no “valid public purpose” asking schools to collect information about students’ immigration status.
“We have to go by the State Board of Education,” said Brad Young, who said that also was the advice of the school system’s attorney.
Other school board members agreed, although some said they see the value in estimating how much the county spends on educating illegal immigrants.
Board member April Miller said the school system is constantly struggling to meet unfunded mandates, which require to prepare all students for the same targets.
“I think the taxpayer has the right to know how much these mandates cost us,” she said.
Commissioners were disappointed with that response.
According to John Mathias, the Frederick County attorney, the school system does not have a legal reason to prevent it from collecting that information.
This is not the first time the Frederick County commissioners and the school board have sparred in regard to the issue of counting students who are in the country illegally.
In 2007, then-Commissioner John "Lennie" Thompson Jr. (R) started pushing unsuccessfully for the school system to report the exact number of students who are in the U.S. illegally in hopes of asking the federal government for reimbursement.
He reasoned the federal government is responsible for enforcing immigration laws, so it should reimburse school systems the cost of educating students who are in the country illegally.
Those efforts led to the state board’s ruling in 2009, which pointed to the 1982 Plyler v. Doe Supreme Court case in Texas, in which the state tried to withhold funding from a local school system so it would not be used to educate students who were in the country illegally.
The court ruled municipalities must pay to educate all their residents, regardless of their immigration status, and the Maryland State Board of Education reinstated that in its ruling.
However, the new county commissioners this year decided to try a new approach to the issue. Commissioners included the need to count illegal immigrant students as a position statement in their legislative package and were hoping to reach an agreement with the school board, which also has been infused with new members.
Commissioners’ President Blaine R. Young (R) said he was disappointed by the school board’s refusal.
“In our opinion it never had to be a legislation,” he said.
He said he was hoping the new school board would be more willing to work with the county commissioners to determine how much of the county taxpayers’ money go to educating students who might be in the country illegally.
Young said commissioners now cannot directly pressure the school board to change its position. But he said commissioners will explore other avenues to try to curb the county’s spending on illegal immigrants.
“We are going to make Frederick County as unfriendly to illegal residents as possible,” he said. “Let them go to Montgomery County.”