‘Back to school’ may mean questions and concerns for Hispanics

By Kathy Schmugge

As school starts, some parents may worry whether or not they bought the right backpack for their child while others will be asking if their child will be permitted to attend school if they are not a documented U.S. citizen.

These issues were addressed at the Hispanic Ministry meeting held at St. John Neumann Church in Columbia Aug. 3.

“Education is the key to alleviating poverty and derivation,” explained Kathleen Merritt, director of Ethnic Ministries for the Charleston Diocese, who organized the meeting. “We must raise our Hispanic youth to become bilingual workers who can contribute to the state’s economy and society.”

The superintendent of Catholic schools for the diocese, Margaret Adams, Ph.D., was also one of the speakers who outlined diocesan policies regarding admission to Catholic schools.

“We want your children in our Catholic school,” said Adams whose English words were quickly translated into Spanish by Maria Smoak, director of Hispanic Ministry at St. Peter Church in Columbia. “You deserve that right for your child to have a Catholic education.”

She also explained how the Catholic schools have policies similar to those in the public schools and that Catholic schools can utilize some of the same programs such the lunch program.

“What does a parent do if they want their child to go to a Catholic school, but they do not have any money,” asked Father Adilso Coelho, associate pastor from St. Anne Church in Rock Hill. He ministers to approximately 700 Hispanics in the Rock Hill area. He said that he has been approached by at least 10 parents who are in that situation.

Adams made it clear that if the school had room, no child should be turned away.

She explained that if parents want their children to attend a diocesan school, but are in financial need, they should first approach the principal, and if a seat were available, the school and diocese would find the money.

Because the majority of the Hispanics attend public school, time was spent discussing issues of communication with faculty and how to enroll a student.

“According to the 1982 U.S. Supreme Court ruling Plyer v. Doe, federal law guarantees undocumented children a free public education,” according to a handout prepared and written by Merritt, Maria Smoak, Diane Bullard, Maria Henao and Catholic Charities.

Although a school can ask for a social security number and other information that would prove residency, the students do not have to give that information.

“Just asking for that kind of information, can scare an undocumented parent from enrolling their children in a school so they need to know the law,” said Smoak.

The topic of education is one of great importance that impacts all people according to Merritt.

“Education is an avenue of communication for all the ethnic groups and we can share information and ideas with one another,” said Merritt..

“The Hispanics, many who struggle with similar issues as other minorities, need the help of the entire Catholic community. ”