September 27, 2005
Lupita Murillo Reports
New developments in a story we've been telling you about for more than a year.
Eyewitness News 4 videotaped children crossing the border from Mexico into Ajo, Arizona to attend school for free.
When Naco officials saw our story they cracked down, requiring non-residents to pay tuition.
Now, some parents have filed a federal civil rights complaint claiming their children's rights were violated.
Naco elementary has grades K through 8. Over 250 students attend classes. 96% are Hispanic.
The U.S. Department of Education received complaints of discrimination and sent a team to investigate. The complaint says Hispanic students who live within the school district were being asked to pay tuition while non-Hispanic students were not.
Candee Pardee, an attorney with the Cochise County Attorney's office, says, "Some of the children are U.S. residents. They were born in the U.S. but if they reside outside of Arizona, then they have to pay tuition."
Naco School Superentendent Patricia Marsh says at least 5 students are paying tuition of nearly $3,000 a year. "If they don't live in Arizona they will be charged tuition as a non-resident."
That's the problem: determining who lives in Arizona.
We saw a group of children crossing into Mexico after school was let out at Naco Elementary.
We don't know whether they are U.S. citizens or if they are going to spend time with relatives, but Tom Horne, State Supt. of Schools says its up to the individual districts to know.
Supt. Marsh says its impossile for her to keep track. She wears other hats.
The Dept. Of Education investigators are scheduled to intverview over a dozen teachers, school board members, and staff.
They're also talking with parents.
Pardee says, "We will be happy to take guidence if we are doing something wrong. As far as we can see, we are in compliance with Arizona law."
The Investigators are in Naco through Tuesday.
We were unable to reach anyone with the Dept. of Education in Washington D.C.