Are Maricopa Community Colleges Violating Minority Students Civil Rights?

Are Maricopa Community Colleges Violating Minority Students Civil Rights?
Charges against Maricopa Community College system, who is currently being invested by the US Department of Education, claim the schools are discriminating against minority students. We examine the charges and analyze the case.

Discrimination has become a point of focus at Maricopa Community Colleges in Phoenix, Arizona, as the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has launched into an investigation of some of the practices of the college system. The investigations are in response to concerns raised over two key issues: the request for immigration status from some students and the failure to provide appropriate services to non-English speaking students.

Concerns Raised by Civil Rights Center

Concerns over both of these issues were initially raised by a non-profit organization based out of Phoenix, known as the Civil Rights Center. Information on this organization is limited, but according to a report in the New York Times last year, the bare-boned group is run out of the Phoenix home of its director, Silverio Garcia Jr. Last year, Garcia filed a class-action complaint with the Department of Education, alleging that teachers in Phoenix schools were improperly transferred due to speaking accents that some children had difficulty understanding.

“This was one culture telling another culture that you are not speaking correctly,” Garcia told the New York Times.

The complaint, which was filed in May, 2010, was closed in late August, 2011, after the state agreed to alter its policy that stated only teachers who were fluent in the English could teach students learning English. State officials said at the time accents were not a part of their monitoring process to determine whether teachers should remain in the classroom.

This year, Silverio Garcia’s organization has gone after Phoenix schools once again, and this time their efforts are directed at the Maricopa Community College system. The Civil Rights Center has filed complaints with the Office of Civil Rights through the Department of Education, claiming the college system is creating an environment hostile to undocumented immigrants and is discriminating against minority students.

Immigration Status an Issue on Charter School Applications

The first issue raised by Garcia is the practice of asking students applying for the Maricopa charter school for their immigration status. According to Arizona Central, Garcia filed a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights, stating that the request for immigration status may “chill or discourage the enrollment of students based on their parents’ or guardians’ actual or perceived citizenship or immigration status.” The complaint was filed by Garcia last August, and on March 23, Garcia received a letter from the Office of Civil Rights confirming an investigation into the matter had been launched.

A spokesman for the Maricopa Community College District, Tom Gariepy, also confirmed with Arizona Central that they received a request from the office for further information on the matter.

“The district will respond in a timely manner and cooperate fully with any further inquiries the department might make,” Gariepy told Arizona Central.

The charter school, Gateway Early College High School, allows students to spend half their day in high school and the other half in community college courses, so they earn their high school diploma and their community college completion simultaneously. At issue in this particular complaint is tuition rates for the community college courses, which is significantly higher for students who are not residents of Maricopa County, including undocumented students.

Garcia states in his complaint that asking students for their immigration status on the application is a violation of their student rights. He told Arizona Central, “They’re treating high school students like college students.” He added that asking students about immigration students while in high school discourages them from pursuing higher education at the community college level.

Only English Spoken Here

Garcia has also filed a complaint in regards to discrimination against non-English speaking students. CBS 5 reports that Garcia is alleging the district discriminated against “national origin minority individuals based on their limited English proficiency by failing to provide meaningful access to information and services district wide.”

According to a report at Fronteras, if the allegations are true, the school district could be in violation of the federal Civil Rights Act. Currently the Office of Civil Rights is investigating the community college district to determine whether it has failed to provide information, access and services to people with limited English proficiency.

“We need to improve that atmosphere, because this is a learning institution,” Garcia told CBS 5. “How can you learn when there’s a lot of tension and a lot of disparity in how people are being treated?”

The community college district responded to the complaint in a statement indicating they will comply fully with the investigation. Garcia hopes that the result will be a more inclusive community college district overall.

“If you can let the community – no matter what ethnicity, Italian, German, Chinese – if you can open it up, in other words, they’re comfortable, they understand what’s going on, you’re on your way.”

Maricopa’s History of Discrimination Allegations

As the largest community college system in the country, this is not the first time Maricopa has been under fire for discrimination. In 2010, the Los Angeles Times reported that the district was sued by the U.S. Justice Department for “intentionally committed document abuse discrimination.” At the time, the district allegedly required prospective employees of the community college system to show a permanent resident card, known as a green card, as well as their driver’s license and social security card when applying for employment.

The request of the green card constituted “immigration-related employment discrimination,” according to Thomas E. Perez, assistance attorney general for civil rights at the Justice Department.

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