Opinion

CMS right about volunteer safety

Parents like Estella Hernandez are good for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

Hernandez has a son at a CMS school, and she’d like to volunteer there, maybe in his class like other parents. Any educator will tell you that’s a positive thing, because when parents are involved in what’s happening at school, kids usually perform better.

But although Hernandez can visit her son for lunch and meet with a teacher, she isn’t allowed to volunteer with CMS. To do so, she would need to provide the district with a driver’s license and Social Security number for a background check. Hernandez doesn’t have either. She’s an undocumented immigrant.

As the Observer’s Andrew Dunn reported this week, immigrant advocates are pushing CMS to change that policy. On Tuesday, they implored Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board members to allow passports to be a valid form of identification.

CMS says it welcomes suggestions on alternatives that might broaden access for immigrant parents. But as spokesman Brian Hacker told the editorial board Wednesday, district officials don’t want to compromise the thoroughness of background checks and the safety of students. They’re right.

CMS has formed a work group to look at the issue, and they’ve met for months with immigrant advocates. It’s likely that Social Security numbers are the bigger hangup here. Although a passport might be a reasonable substitute for a driver’s license with regard to background checks, school officials believe a Social Security number is also necessary for a thorough check. That SSN is something undocumented immigrants obviously can’t provide.

So why not make accommodations for undocumented parents, as local, state and federal officials sometimes do for people in the country illegally? After all, undocumented immigrants can get driver’s licenses in most states. Their children can attend school. In some states, they can even get in-state tuition for college.

Those allowances, however, should fall into one of two categories. They should provide for better public safety, such as driver’s licenses for immigrants who likely would drive anyway without one. Or they should provide essential benefits, such as education for children who shouldn’t be punished for decisions their parents made.

While having a volunteer parent can be a benefit for children, it’s not essential, and it certainly shouldn’t come at the expense of safety for other children. That should be the threshold CMS continues to apply as it considers how to allow undocumented but well-meaning parents more involvement.

This is where we offer our obligatory but very real lament: Many of these issues would be resolved if Washington passed comprehensive immigration reform. Until that happens, public officials will expend countless resources and time trying to reconcile immigration laws with immigration reality. And too many people, including Estella Hernandez’s son, will suffer.

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