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SPLC Claims Fort Payne Schools Discriminated Against Latino Student, Supt. Responds

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FORT PAYNE, Ala. (WHNT) – The Southern Poverty Law Center is demanding Fort Payne City Schools end discriminatory enrollment practices that resulted in a Latino student being turned away from Fort Payne High School twice and missing almost a semester of school.

The SPLC says the 17-year-old student, identified as J.T., tried to enroll at Fort Payne High School on January 31 after moving to Alabama. In a letter to Superintendent Jim Cunningham, the SPLC said the student was denied enrollment without any legal justification, even after J.T.’s family met with Cunningham.

“Fort Payne school officials have stood in the way of our client getting an education simply because he was born in Mexico,” said Caren Short, SPLC staff attorney. “These discriminatory practices have already cost our client valuable class time. It must stop.”

The SPLC said the school system’s not allowing the student to enroll violates federal law that bars discrimination based on national origin, immigration status or limited English proficiency. The SPLC has instructed the district to enroll the student by April 14.

The latest census shows Fort Payne’s population is more than 20 percent Hispanic.

WHNT News 19 asked Superintendent Jim Cunningham for his response.  He issued this statement:

“Federal confidentiality laws prohibits the System from disclosing personally identifiable student information or from issuing any public response to the enrollment concern that has been presented to me. However, I can unequivocally confirm that the Fort Payne City School System in no manner utilizes or considers an individual’s national origin in its enrollment decisions. Indeed, even a cursory review of the System’s current student population, confirms the enrollment of a diverse student body.

The representative for the individual at issue has been specifically advised that he is more than welcome to immediately enroll into the System subject to the same enrollment criteria applicable to any individual such as himself that is over the age of mandatory school attendance. The individual has been requested to meet with the System this week in order to facilitate the enrollment request.”



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