Naco school discriminated against
disabled, Spanish speakers
Oct. 13, 2006
BISBEE - A federal investigation found that a southern Arizona school
discriminated against students with disabilities and parents who speak Spanish
but rejected claims that administrators violated federal law by doing random
checks at the Mexican border to make sure students were U.S. residents.
The ruling by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights found
that the Naco Elementary School hadn't met its legal obligations to provide
disabled students with individualized education plans. The school also didn't
provide non-English-speaking parents with school materials they could read or
translate at board meetings.
The school signed an agreement with the education department agreeing to fix the
problems, according to Patricia Marsh, the school superintendent. A new special
education teacher has been hired, and a staff member will be trained to
interpret for parents.
In a letter outlining the civil rights office findings, Office of Civil Rights
attorney Nicole Huggins said school administrators had not unfairly singled out
Hispanics when they performed random border checks and home visits on 25
students suspected of living in Naco, Mexico, during the 2004-2005 school year.
The students were U.S. citizens but their parents were told they would have to
pay tuition or leave the school because they lived outside the district.
Because the town and school were so small, Huggins wrote that school officials
were aware of the family situations of almost all Naco Elementary students and
were acting on first-hand knowledge when they investigated some students.
Phoenix-based civil rights activist Silverio Garcia complained about the issues
in May, 2005, and accused the education department of "chickening out" on the
"They didn't want to get into it politically, mainly because of the very
anti-immigrant climate in Arizona and the United States right now," he said.
Garcia also said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne encouraged
public school officials along the border to assume the role of federal
immigration officials. He said he would continue to fight school border checks
in Naco, Douglas, Nogales and San Luis.
Horne said he tells school officials they should monitor border crossings and
said the practice is legal.
"If they are residents of Arizona, even if they are here illegally, we are going
to educate them," Horne said. "But if they are residents of Mexico and they
cross the border to go to school, the state is not going to pay for that."
Marsh said she stopped monitoring the border crossing after taking over the
district and has no plans to reinstate it.
"I've been advised by the Arizona School Boards Association that it is not
something that you want to do," Marsh said. "As a school district
superintendent, you are not a law enforcement agent."
Naco Elementary School requires its students to demonstrate proof of residency
before enrolling, Marsh said. Once that is done, she does not feel compelled to
perform supplemental checks.
During the 2004-2005 school year, the school had an enrollment of 255 students,
249 of whom were Hispanic. Twenty-three students were identified as having