By MEGAN MILLER
BALTIMORE (March 24, 2009) - Frederick County public school students cannot be forced to disclose their citizenship status to county officials, the Maryland State Board of Education ruled Tuesday.
The board's unanimous decision was a response to an October 2008 petition by the Frederick County Commissioners. The commissioners sought legal permission to include immigration status with other information in student records.
Proponents of the status check argue that the issue is not removing illegal immigrant students from the school system, but determining the amount those students cost taxpayers.
"You can't manage something that you can't quantify. That's the basic problem," said County Attorney John Mathias. "At least in the past there weren't that many students in Frederick County who were here illegally. If that's changing, there needs to be a projection of the cost to the school district."
"Nobody is trying to deny anybody anything," said Sheriff Chuck Jenkins. "It's just that the taxpayers, the citizens, have a right to know the cost of educating the illegal community."
Jenkins played a major role in other Frederick County immigration enforcement efforts, including the controversial policy of reporting illegal immigrants who have contact with police to federal authorities.
But school officials fear that requiring illegal students to disclose their status would have negative effects in the immigrant community, possibly driving those students out of schools altogether.
"There is the concern that parents who are here illegally may choose not to send their children to school for fear of retribution," said Marita Loose, a spokeswoman for Frederick County Public Schools. "That is a very real concern for the future of our community."
Officials on both sides agree that the number of immigrant students in Frederick County is rising, as evidenced by increases in English language courses for non-native speakers.
In 2007, 1,200 students participated in such classes, according to the annual Frederick County Public Schools Report. In 2008, that number increased to 1,346.
"Now those students could be here legally, they could be here illegally ... but there certainly is a suspicion that some of those students are illegal," Mathias said.
"We have a growing immigrant population. Our percentage increase as a county is one of the highest in Maryland," Loose said. "We have increased staffing and provided the necessary support to those students to help them in an academic environment. That's what our board wishes to do, and what our educators wish to do. It's what the law tells us to do."
Capital News Service contributed to this report.