- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 16, 2012

After a press release containing not-entirely-correct information went out Thursday, D.C. officials took pains to clarify that any parents who wish to enroll their children in after-school programs at city schools will not be turned away, even though the District must verify the citizenship status of students who benefit from federally subsidized programs.

The D.C. Office of the State Superintendent for Education said D.C. Public Schools can leverage local funding to accommodate students who want to enroll in after-school programs but do not have documents that the federal government demands for the programs it funds.

The city’s open-door policy is in line with the District’s stance on public safety and other services that intersect with immigrant populations as it draws a bright line between its local duties and that of federal law enforcement.

In the past year, Mayor Vincent C. Gray issued an order that prevents the Metropolitan Police Department from inquiring about a person’s legal status in the United States so immigrants would not be dissuaded from seeking help from authorities during the rollout of Secure Communities, a federal program that shares booking information between local police and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

OSSE officials wanted to let parents know parents about its document-verification procedures after a press release from the D.C. Office of Latino Affairs on Thursday “contained several statements that we must clarify.”

Multiple city officials acknowledged the release contained mistakes and should never have been sent out without getting the questionable information verified. OSSE officials said they believed the release was sent out in response to concerns heard from the community.

The press release misidentified top school officials and took a misleading view on the citizenship verification policy. It quoted Roxana Olivas, the director of the D.C. Office on Latino Affairs, as saying the verification policy “discriminates against children and families that are undocumented, destroying the trust between teachers, and families. It discourages participation of many programs and educational rights. It also creates a level of hesitance to obtain services from many other agencies that do not have the same requirement.”

OSSE officials said that, yes, they have to verify official documentation on participating students’ family income, citizenship or legal status because the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has provided $6.8 million for after-school programs at DCPS during the 2012-2013 school year.

But more than 99.9 percent of D.C. children participating in the programs are able to produce documents without any problems, OSSE said in the written statement responding to the press release.

“While DCPS does receive HHS funding, it uses other funds to ensure all children can participate in after school programming,” OSSE’s statement said. “DCPS has said that it has no intention of turning students or families away for after school programs or services.”

The policy has been in place in past years. OSSE said failure to comply with federal requirements could lead to audits, fines, grant revocation and other sanctions.”

Years ago, because of failure to comply with these types of requirements, the U.S. Department of Education placed the D.C. Public Schools system in a “high-risk status.” OSSE inherited that status “upon its emergence in 2007, and from which we have worked diligently to eradicate over the past year and a half,” spokesman Brandon Frazier said. Failing to comply with these funding regulations would tarnish the District’s reputation and continue its high-risk status, he said.

He said OSSE has worked with the federal government to meet its requirements and is in final discussions to have the classification removed.