As schools are registering students for the next school year, this alert is a reminder that public schools, by law, must serve all children. The education of undocumented students is guaranteed by the Plyler vs. Doe decision, and certain procedures must be followed when registering immigrant children in school to avoid violation of their civil rights. Recent executive orders issued by the Administration do not alter the right of undocumented students to receive a free public education.

As a result of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Plyler vs. Doe, public schools may not:

  • make inquiries of students or parents intended to expose their undocumented status;
  • deny admission to a student during initial enrollment or at any other time on the basis of undocumented status;
  • treat a student differently to determine residency;
  • engage in any practices to “chill” the right of access to school, such as requiring driver’s licenses of parents to register their child;
  • require students or parents to disclose or document their immigration status; or
  • require Social Security numbers from all students, as this may expose undocumented status.

Yet a number of schools are posting notices like these pictured (right) and on school websites that indicate Social Security cards and birth certificates are required before a family can register their child for school. Such practices are in direct violation of Plyler vs. Doe. Schools should not use Social Security numbers for identification or registration purposes.

For those schools that do, it should be clear from the beginning that students who do not present a Social Security number will be assigned a number generated by the school. For example, some school districts are including language in their enrollment notices, like:

  • The XYZ Independent School District does not prevent students from enrolling if a Social Security card is not presented. The Social Security number is used for identification purposes when reporting student information to the Texas Education Agency. The campus will assign a computer generated number when a card is not presented.
  • Providing a Social Security card or number is optional. The XYZ Independent School District will not refuse enrollment of any student opting not to provide a social security card/number. In lieu, a state identification number will be provided for educational purposes only.
  • If the student does not have a Social Security number, XYZ ISD will assign a Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS) number. No student may be denied enrollment solely because of failure to meet the documentation requirements. Enrollment is provisional, however, pending receipt of the required documentation and verification of eligibility.

Not only should undocumented students not be discouraged from attending, they are required to attend school under the state’s compulsory education laws. And parents should be assured that the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act restricts schools from sharing information with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE).

At IDRA, we are working to assure educational opportunity for every child. Help us make this goal a reality for every child; we simply cannot afford the alternatives. Denying or discouraging children of undocumented workers access to an education is unconstitutional and against the law.

More Information

See IDRA’s School Opening Alert (in English and Spanish). For help in ensuring that your programs comply with federal law, visit IDRA’s website for a printable flier in English and Spanish as well as a copy of the letter from the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education.

For information or to report incidents of school exclusion or delay, call:

META (Nationwide) 617- 628-2226

MALDEF (Los Angeles) 213-629-2512

MALDEF (San Antonio) 210-224-5476

NY Immigration Hotline (Nationwide) 212-419-3737

MALDEF (Chicago) 312-427-0701

MALDEF (Washington, D.C.) 202-293-2828

RAICES 210-226-7722

[©2017, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the February 2017 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Every effort has been made to maintain the content in its original form. However, accompanying charts and graphs may not be provided here. To receive a copy of the original article by mail or fax, please email Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]