04/10/2014 01:59 pm ET

Law Group Says Student Was Denied Enrollment At Public School Because He's Latino

An Alabama public school twice denied admission to a local 17-year-old, and the Southern Poverty Law Center alleges these decisions were made solely because the student is Latino.

On Tuesday the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) released a statement calling on Fort Payne High School in the DeKalb County school district to end what the organization calls “discriminatory enrollment practices.” Referring to the teen only as J.T., the SLPC claims that it's because he was born in Mexico that the high school reportedly denied him enrollment after he moved to the district.

When attempting to enroll at Fort Payne High School, J.T. met with the principal and showed him a completed enrollment application, proof of residency in the district, a Social Security card and an immunization record, according to the organization. However, J.T. says the principal did not even look over these documents and instead told J.T the school could not enroll him because he had failed two courses at his previous school. In a subsequent meeting, in which J.T. was pushing his case for enrollment, the principal reportedly said the teen could not be enrolled because he was 17, according to SLPC.

The organization says the district’s initial decision not to enroll J.T. based on previously failed courses “has no basis in district or state education policy.” Additionally, it points out that Alabama children between the ages of six and 17 are required to attend school, but the state “does not grant the right to deny a child enrollment simply because he or she is 17,” says the organization.

The SLPC believes J.T. was being discriminated against based on his ethnicity.

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

The district denies discriminating against students, although spokespeople have not commented on the specific case.

"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," said Fort Payne City Schools Superintendent Jim Cunningham in a statement, according to local outlet WAFF-TV.

The statement continues to say that "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."

Michael Sibley, a spokesman for the Alabama Department of Education, told CNN that the state does not tolerate discrimination and that the department needed to look into the matter.

In 2011, Alabama passed what was dubbed “American’s harshest immigration law,” which allowed police to ask anyone about their immigration status if police officers had “reasonable suspicion” they were in the country illegally. In 2013, key provisions of the law were blocked in a court settlement.



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