Even as immigration policy continues to be the subject of heated debate nationwide, South Carolina schools quietly go about the work of accepting all students — regardless of citizenship status.
"We do verify residency, but not citizenship," said Beth Brotherton, spokeswoman for Greenville County Schools.
Students are required to have birth certificates, but "out of country birth certificates are accepted," Brotherton said.
"The birth certificate is to provide proof of age, the child’s legal name and the names of his or her parents," but not to verify citizenship status, Brotherton said.
Several Upstate school districts also offer student registration instructions in Spanish on their websites.
Immigration advocates nationwide are celebrating the 35th anniversary of Plyler vs. Doe, the landmark Supreme Court decision that prevented states from denying undocumented students access to a free public education.
In the 5-4 decision, the court in 1982 determined that the potential future cost to the students and society far outweighed the cost of educating undocumented children, according to The Associated Press.
Once undocumented students graduate from high school, however, South Carolina sharply curtails their opportunities to attend state colleges.
An elementary or secondary school's responsibility to accept all young people also extends to homeless students. Registration normally requires that parents or guardians present two proofs of residency, but exceptions can be made for homeless students, Brotherton said.
Student homelessness is a small but significant problem, Upstate district officials say. In Anderson District 5, for instance, between 200 and 300 of the district's 13,000 students are classified as homeless, according to a district spokesman.
As the beginning of the school year nears in August, Upstate districts are urging parents to register new students as soon as possible.
Principals need to have accurate headcounts now to know how many teachers will need to be on staff at each grade level as the school year begins, district officials say. Each district must abide by state and local guidelines on class size.
Early registration helps ensure a smooth start to the school year for districts, school officials say.
Children who will be five years old on or before Sept. 1 of this year must enroll in public or private kindergarten, unless the parent or legal guardian signs a waiver, according to the Greenville district's website.
Any child who will be six years old on or before Sept. 1 of this year must enroll in first grade.
To enroll a new student in kindergarten or first grade, a parent must present the following at registration:
• State-issued birth certificate.
• Properly completed immunization certificate or religious exemption certificate.
• Proof of residence (at least two documents).
Students who lack these documents often can be admitted on a provisional basis, Brotherton said.
The first day of school in Greenville County is Tuesday, Aug. 22.
In Greenville, requests are due on Monday for new students who want to ride the bus to school. Transportation routes are being designed now to create the most timely and fuel-efficient bus schedules, according to the school district.
The district is warning parents that students may not be included in bus routes until after Labor Day if requests are turned in after Monday.
Kindergarten enrollment in Greenville County this year is expected to be down from the all-time record class of 2014-15, Brotherton said. That class saw 5,797 kindergartners registered. Last year, kindergarten enrollment declined to 5,692
Kindergarten enrollment in recent years is mirroring a national trend, which has experienced a drop in the birth rate since the Great Recession of the late 2000s, Brotherton said.