Board looks for way around civil rights ruling

Published 10:50 am Saturday, March 8, 2008

By Staff
Limited Spanish options to be available on phones
Staff Writer
Dodging claims by state officials that removing Spanish-language options from the health department phone system constitutes a civil rights violation, Beaufort County commissioners voted Thursday to remove all automated systems from county-owned phones.
Commissioners voted last month to mandate that no county-funded agencies provide a Spanish option on their phone systems. But a compliance attorney with the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services responded that the move was a Title VI civil rights violation.
The Spanish option was replaced on the health department phone system as a result of an emergency meeting of the Beaufort County Board of Health.
Commissioner Hood Richardson called the DHHS attorney’s claim “the greatest falsehood in the state of North Carolina” and accused Roxanne Holloman, the county’s health director, of holding an illegal meeting with an “illegitimate purpose.” Richardson based that accusation on a provision of the health department’s annual contract with the state health department. In that contract it states that if found to be non-compliant, the county health department will be given a period of 60 days to come into compliance before funding will be withheld.
Three pages before the section Richardson quoted from the contract, the section titled “Civil Rights” specifically mentions immigration status as grounds on which no one seeking services can be discriminated.
Commissioner Stan Deatherage made a motion that the board mandate that all automated phone systems be removed from telephone systems at all county agencies, specifying that interpreters currently employed by the county at various agencies remain.
The motion passed four to three along party lines.
From 5 p.m. until 8 a.m., callers will be directed, in English, to leave a voicemail message to be returned the next business day. Spanish-language options will be available for certain callers who need emergency child- or adult-protective services after hours, Spruill said.
In other business, but still on the topic of illegal immigration, commissioners sought information from Beaufort County Community College President David McLawhorn on the cost of educating out-of-state residents at the college.
Out-of-state students pay $7,024 to attend courses full-time during the fall and spring semesters each year, according to information provided by McLawhorn. The taxpayer cost of educating one student is $6,785, netting a profit of $239 each semester per out-of-state student enrolled. That includes illegal immigrants because the N.C. Community College System mandates that undocumented students pay out-of-state tuition.
The college currently has two undocumented students enrolled, one of which is a high school student. The other is a prison inmate. The N.C. General Assembly establishes tuition wavers for both high-school students and inmates, so the college does not collect money from either undocumented student.
The colleges have no authority to set non-academic requirements for enrollment, he said. Commissioners Richardson and Deatherage pushed for a vote urging the college’s board of trustees to pass a resolution, similar to the one already passed by the board of commissioners, that no taxpayer money be used to educate illegals at the state’s community colleges and that if they are enrolled, they pay out-of-state tuition.