- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 9, 2004

Montgomery County public school officials said yesterday they will not report to federal authorities illegal immigrants whom they discover in a new residency verification effort.

Such information “is part of students’ confidential records, and we have no intention of sharing the information with any law-enforcement authority, be it local, state or national,” said Brian J. Porter, spokesman for school Superintendent Jerry D. Weast. “The only access would come through a court-ordered subpoena, and I don’t foresee that happening.”

Mr. Porter said the school system is interested only in the students’ residency, not their immigration status, because only county residents — citizens and illegal aliens alike — pay the local taxes that support the schools.

The Washington Times yesterday reported that school officials said as many as 20 percent — or about 2,000 — of the county’s 11,000 eighth-graders whose parents missed a Friday deadline to prove their residency will not be allowed to attend high school next year.

School officials in March began to require parents to submit documents such as lease agreements, property-tax bills, utility bills and credit-card bills to prove their residency to stop border crossers from illegally receiving free tuition, about $10,000 per student a year.

Several school administrators told The Times that some families were not complying with the residency check for fear of being deported.

“We want parents to know that this information is being collected for school system use only,” Mr. Porter said. “Our only interest is their bona fide residency in Montgomery County, not their U.S. citizenship.”

Nonetheless, the principal of Parkland Middle School in Rockville — one of the county’s most diverse schools — said yesterday that parents in the southern part of the county who have not provided proof of residence still might be worried about their immigration status being revealed.

“Parkland, along with a number of downcounty schools, are impacted disproportionately because we are often the ‘first stop’ for immigrants,” Principal Carlos Hamlin said. “I know that the [high] schools in Wheaton — Kennedy, Blair and Einstein — have the highest populations of students who speak English as a second language.”

Mr. Hamlin said 75 percent — or about 293 — of his school’s 391 eighth-graders had provided proof of residence. Of Parkland’s 1,191 students, 51.5 percent are Hispanic, 26 percent are black, 13.1 percent are white and 9.2 percent are Asian, and 8.4 percent take English as a second language (ESL) courses, according to county schools’ statistics.

Mary Beth Waits, principal of Col. E. Brooke Lee Middle School in Silver Spring, yesterday said that parents of some of her school’s students are illegal immigrants.

“There’s a significant number of people without papers who are trying to fly under the radar,” Ms. Waits said. “They’re afraid of being deported. But whether or not they’re here with the permission of the United States government is not our concern. The public schools are a safe haven.”

As of Friday, 46.6 percent of E. Brooke Lee’s 221 eighth-graders still had not proved their residency — the highest level of noncompliance The Times found in a survey of the county’s 36 middle schools yesterday.

Ms. Waits said, 38 percent of her eighth-graders are black, 12.2 percent are Asian, 17.6 percent are white and 31.6 percent are Hispanic. Nearly 11 percent take ESL classes, according to schools’ statistics.

Ms. Waits said school officials routinely ignore the immigration status of parents to “build trust” with them.

“For example, I had a student this year whose father came in and said, ‘I’m not a legal citizen, but I’m working to qualify,’ ” she said. “He’s trying to work with me to help his kid, and I’m going to say, ‘I’m going to report you?’ Come on.”

Most school administrators whom The Times contacted yesterday could not estimate how many of their students are illegal immigrants, but some said a fear of deportation among some parents could be hampering their residency compliance.

“It very well could be a concern of some of our parents,” said Carol M. Dahlberg, principal of White Oak Middle School in Silver Spring. “There are also translation and illiteracy issues.”

Mrs. Dahlberg said 32.3 percent of her 330 eighth-graders are white, 30.3 percent are black, 15.2 percent are Asian, and 21.6 percent are Hispanic. About 8 percent take ESL courses, according to schools’ statistics.

As of Friday’s deadline, 75 percent of White Oak’s eighth-graders had complied with the residency check.

School officials said they intend to stretch Friday’s deadline as much as possible, even after the current school year ends on June 15.

“We’re going to whittle that number [2,000] down before the fall,” Mr. Porter said. “This process has never before been attempted in the county or in the state of Maryland. It’s going to take awhile to work out all the kinks.”

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