Civil Rights Attorney Demands High School District Change Discriminatory Policies

The attorney represents students who claim they were unfairly denied admission to Mills High School even though they live within its school zone.

The civil rights attorney representing the interests of students who have made claims of discriminatory enrollment policies at Mills High School in Millbrae delivered a letter to the San Mateo Union High School District last week pushing for the district to make immediate changes to enrollment policies.

In recent months, word spread that several students who signed up to attend Mills - - had been denied admission and were instead sent to Capuchino High School in San Bruno.

Many cried discrimination on the part of the school district, as many of the students who claim they were unfairly denied admission to Mills were Asian, and others speculated it was because the students had good grades, and the district was hoping to boost Capuchino's scores by sending them there, as Capuchino's scores are among the lowest in the district.

It was revealed that the students live with "caregivers" or relatives such as grandparents or aunts or uncles who have homes in Millbrae within Mills' school zone, and do not live with their parents, some of whom live in other cities or even out of the country. The students claim that is not sufficient grounds for denial of admission to the school in the city they live in full-time, and that it is discriminatory against their Asian cultures, in which living with a relative other than one's parents is common.

Civil rights attorney Jenny Huang of Justice First, LLP, last week sent a letter to San Mateo Union High School Superintendent Scott Laurence asking that the school district take concrete, specific actions to prevent “further discriminatory barriers to school enrollment on behalf of Asian American students who legitimately reside in San Mateo County.”

Huang's demands in the letter included training for district personnel on the proper enrollment forms to be provided to students and parents; proper application of the California Education Code and better understanding of the rights of students who live with caregivers who are not their parents; and adequate assistance of interpreters for parents and students who seek help at the school district offices.

Millbrae City Councilmember Wayne Lee and San Mateo Deputy Mayor David Lim, whose cities are in the affected school district, praised the letter as an informal way for both parties to meet the common goal of ensuring equal enforcement of education policies for all students.

“The letter sent by the attorney for the students proposes basic, common-sense changes to the implementation of enrollment policies which we hope the school district will implement,” said Deputy Mayor Lim. “While all parties await the findings of the U.S. Department of Education’s civil rights investigation, implementing the suggested changes is a good first step towards ensuring equal enforcement of enrollment policies to all students.”

Councilmember Lee noted, “The proposed changes help to start the dialogue between the district and the affected families.”

Lee also added that he hoped both sides would continue to meet informally without necessarily waiting for a finding from the U.S. Department of Education.

“To the degree our community can discuss issues amongst each other will only serve to strengthen our community bonds.”

Earlier this year, the school district confirmed that it was under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education after reports were filed on behalf of Asian American students alleging discriminatory treatment in school enrollment and placement procedures.

Patch will continue to update this story as more information becomes available.


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yesenia September 26, 2012 at 05:43 PM
my child attends mills. i know for a FACT that there are a few students who attend mills and do not live in millbrae (they live in burlingame and one lives in san bruno). how come they get to go to mills?
Heidi Beck September 27, 2012 at 03:13 AM
As San Bruno residents, my children were able to attend Mills through intradistrict transfer. Any why not -- I pay taxes to the San Mateo Union High School District, and we filled out the paperwork and complied with the transfer process. Now, there are people who don't read the paperwork carefully and/or don't follow the process and complain about their kid not getting the transfer they desired. There are also cases of people supplying false information. If the district is scrutinizing certain applicants more closely, that WOULD be discriminatory; the district should treat all applicants equally. I also know of students who lived OUTSIDE the district (in South San Francisco and Daly City) attending SMUHSD schools; however, I don't know if they were attending on an interdistrict transfer.


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