Menchaca Early Childhood Center on the first day of school.
Menchaca Early Childhood Center at Southside ISD is one of the schools accused of denying parents without a Texas driver's license access to the campus. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Southside Independent School District parents and community members organized through COPS/Metro Alliance told the district’s board of managers on Thursday night that parents without Texas driver’s licenses were being turned away from campuses.

Dozens of students and parents gathered at the Thursday night meeting, standing behind COPS/Metro leaders who delivered an emotional, and at times tearful, plea to meet with Superintendent Mark Eads and district leaders to sort the issue out.

Sandra, a parent who requested her last name not be used, told the Rivard Report prior to Thursday’s meeting that she tried to visit her child for lunch at Menchaca Early Childhood Center and was told she could not come onto campus because she did not have the proper form of identification. She had previously used a matrícula consular ID, a form of identification issued by Mexican consulates to citizens living outside of Mexico, to visit her kindergartener. When she attempted to do so in early September, she was turned away.

“The secretary told me she had to check with the principal and came back 10 minutes later,” Sandra said. “She told me I couldn’t go in because I didn’t have a Texas ID.”

Sandra’s husband, who possessed a Texas driver’s license, was permitted to enter the campus, she said.

Another parent, Montserrat, who requested her last name not be used, said she was not allowed to drive onto the district’s main campus where Losoya Middle School is located to pick up her son when he had a foot injury last May. She showed the security guard stationed at the campus’ fence her matrícula consular ID and was told to park elsewhere. Montserrat said she had previously been allowed on campus with a matrícula consular ID.

District officials confirmed there was a policy in place from May to early September that required people entering a campus during the school day to have a driver’s license and proof of insurance. 

Superintendent Mark Eads told the Rivard Report on Thursday morning that parents were spreading misinformation. No parents have ever been prevented from seeing their children, he said.

Guardians can use one of 11 forms of identification to gain access to a campus, Eads said, but only two of these forms – a driver’s license or state-issued ID – work in the Raptor system, which Southside ISD uses to screen for sex offenders.

If a parent doesn’t have one of the two Raptor-approved identification methods but had one of the nine other options, they could have limited access to their child in a separate room away from other students, he added.

“We allow them to have lunch with their child but in a special setting,” Eads said. “They can’t be around other children because our responsibility is to make sure all kids are safe.”

If a parent doesn’t have a Texas driver’s license or ID, a name can be manually entered to be screened by the Raptor system, North East ISD spokeswoman Aubrey Chancellor said.

Parents told the Rivard Report they were embarrassed when they were prevented from joining other families in the cafeteria for lunchtime or inside the school for awards shows.

“I met with every principal and they said we are trying to make it a positive experience, so I don’t believe they are humiliated, I don’t believe they are mistreated,” Eads said. “We are going overboard to make it a pleasant experience. They can’t have it their way because we are going to follow the law.”

Southside polled nearby districts to see if its policy was in alignment. District officials spoke with various elementary schools in Harlandale, Southwest, East Central, Pleasanton, Somerset, and South San ISDs. Each elementary told Southside that not having a “valid identification or driver’s license” prohibited someone from being on campus, Eads said. 

A Rivard Report survey of nearby district policies found some districts allow parents with government-issued photo IDs from other countries on campuses.

School districts do not make public the number of undocumented families or students enrolled in Texas districts.

“They can use ANY government-issued photo ID to include documentation from the Mexican (or other appropriate) Consulate,” East Central ISD spokesman Brandon Oliver wrote in an email. “IDs do not have to be from Texas. In the rare occasion we have a situation where the parent has no photo ID, we work with them to get one.”

A Texas Association of School Boards document notes that Texas law does permit school districts to require people entering a campus to display a driver’s license or another government-issued photo ID. This is not a requirement.

When asked about Southside’s policy, Viridiana Carrizales, the co-founder and CEO of ImmSchools, a nonprofit focused on improving schools for immigrant students, described it as “completely unacceptable.”

“I know our priority is to make sure our kids are safe and that no one is coming into the campus that they don’t know, but when we know it is a parent of a student, we cannot be putting them in a position where they have to disclose their immigration status,” Carrizales said. “An ID policy like this widens the gap for parents to participate and creates fear and distrust.”

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.