Advocates push CMS to allow undocumented parents to volunteer

Advocates for undocumented parents of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools students urged the school board Tuesday to allow them to serve as volunteers in their children’s schools.

The succession of a half-dozen speakers before the board followed a series of meetings between CMS leaders and immigrant activists affiliated with grassroots advocacy group Action NC. Those meetings have yet to lead to a resolution.

CMS requires would-be volunteers to provide a driver’s license and a Social Security number, and the district uses that information to run a background check before it gives volunteers access to schools.

But Hector Vaca, Charlotte director of Action NC, said many immigrant parents do not have access to those documents.

Parents who spoke Tuesday said that unfairly shuts them out of their children’s education.

Alternative suggested

“We understand the background check process. We understand the safety of the kids is first,” said Judith Barriga, a CMS parent and current volunteer. “What we want is more options, for the process to be a little bit more flexible for the parents.”

Vaca and other advocates have met several times with CMS leaders to discuss potential options to broaden access. On Tuesday, he pressed the school board to allow a passport to be a valid form of identification to become a volunteer.

CMS has about 27,000 Latino students, Vaca said. The district does not track how many are undocumented. Vaca said access to driver’s licenses and Social Security numbers also affects parents in the country legally.

“Their child is guaranteed a right to education,” said Alma Hernandez, who said she was a teacher in another district for 10 years. “A parent should also be guaranteed a right to participate in education.”

Estella Hernandez said she is a parent of a CMS student and she is barred from volunteering because of the policy.

“Every day my son asks me why I can’t be in the class like the parents of his friends,” she said. “I have to explain to him why I can’t.”

She said a passport is an internationally accepted form of identification and could be used to conduct a background check.

None of the school board members responded directly to the speakers at the meeting Tuesday. Several speakers thanked board Chairwoman Mary McCray for listening to their concerns. CMS leaders are still studying the issue and could still recommend changes to the policy.