The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights is investigating allegations of discrimination on the basis of national origin by Maricopa County Community College District.
“State law is all they (district administrators) are considering,” said Silverio Garcia Jr., the executive director of the Civil Rights Center, which filed the complaint. “This is a federally funded district and they need to follow federal law.”
The Civil Rights Center, a 501(c)3 nonprofit based in Phoenix, contacted the OCR in August to address concerns about discrimination, Garcia said at a press conference Thursday.
The Department of Education agreed to look into complaints that the college district was discriminating against high school students based on their national origin by “engaging in practices that might discourage the enrollment of student based on their, their parents or guardian’s actual or perceived citizenship or immigration status,” stated a letter signed by Thomas E. Ciapusci, OCR supervisory team leader.
Additionally, the OCR is looking into allegations that MCCCD “discriminated against national origin minority individuals on the basis of their limited English proficiency by failing to provide meaningful access to information and services and by failing to provide meaningful access to MCCCD board meetings,” the letter states.
According to Executive Order 13166, Title VI, “recipients of Federal financial assistance have a responsibility to ensure meaningful access to their programs and activities by persons with limited English proficiency (LEP).”
The investigation is just the first step to determine if there has been any wrongdoing on the part of MCCCD, the letter states. OCR will work as a “neutral fact-finder” and will gather and analyze information from the Civil Rights Center, MCCCD and other sources.
If the OCR does find instances of discrimination, the next step is to negotiate a solution.
“If we are unable to secure appropriate remedial action, we must initiate formal enforcement action,” the letter states.
That could mean discontinuing federal funds to the district or even possible referral to the Department of Justice.
In a prepared statement, MCCCD spokesman Tom Gariepy said, “Maricopa Community Colleges has received a request for information from the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. The District will respond in a timely manner and cooperate fully with any further inquiries they may make.”
The investigation came after a number of instances of alleged discrimination, such as repeatedly asking for social security numbers and printing forms only in English, said Carmon Cornejo, executive director for CADENA, a DREAM Act advocacy group.
These instances intimidated potential students and their parents, prevented them from enrolling in the community colleges and created an environment where other students from similar backgrounds feel intimidated, Cornejo said.
“They’re willing to pay triple the tuition, but this is preventing them from even trying to go to school,” Cornejo said.
One such student could someday be Jackie Sanchez, a sophomore from Carl Hayden High School in Phoenix who loves to participate in her school robotics club.
“It’s really hard to see other people who are motivated like me who can’t further their education,” said Sanchez, who hopes to one day major in bioengineering. “But people have done it before me, so why can’t I?”
For Sanchez, who dreams of one day attending a prestigious university in California, the biggest prohibition to college is finding scholarships and other ways to cover the costs of tuition, she said.
“This is a community college and when you say ‘community,’ you mean anyone can walk up to the office,” Garcia said.
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