Immigrant Students’ Right to Attend Public Schools

The National Coalition of Advocates for Students (NCAS) launched its’annual School Opening Alert campaign to reaffirms the legal rights of all children who reside in the United States to attend public schools, regardless of immigration status. These fliers provide information for immigrant parents about the rights of their children to attend local public schools this fall. Though NCAS has closed. IDRA continues to make this alert available. The copy of the alert below and on the following page may be reproduced and used as well.

School Opening Alert

In 1982, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Plyler vs. Doe [457 U.S. 202 (1982)] that children of undocumented workers have the same right to attend public primary and secondary schools as do U.S. citizens and permanent residents. Like other students, undocumented students are required under state laws to attend school until they reach a legally mandated age.

As a result of the Plyler ruling, public schools may not:

  • 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;
  • require students or parents to disclose or document their immigration status;
  • make inquiries of students or parents that may expose their undocumented status; or
  • require social security numbers from all students, as this may expose undocumented status.

Students without social security numbers should be assigned a number generated by the school. Adults without social security numbers who are applying for a free lunch and/or breakfast program for a student need only state on the application that they do not have a social security number.

Recent changes in the F-1 (student) Visa Program do not change the Plyler rights of undocumented children. These changes apply only to students who apply for a student visa from outside the United States and are currently in the United States on an F-1 visa.

Also, the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act prohibits schools from providing any outside agency – including the Immigration and Naturalization Service – with any information from a child’s school file that would expose the student’s undocumented status without first getting permission from the student’s parents. The only exception is if an agency gets a court order (subpoena) that parents can then challenge. Schools should note that even requesting such permission from parents might act to “chill” a student’s Plyler rights.

Finally, school personnel – especially building principals and those involved with student intake activities – should be aware that they have no legal obligation to enforce U.S. immigration laws.

For more information or to report incidents of school exclusion or delay, call:
META Nationwide (617)628-2226 (English/Spanish)
META West Coast (415)546-6382 (English)
NY Immigration Hotline Nationwide (212)419-3737 (English/Spanish)
MALDEF – Los Angeles Southwest/Southeast (213)629-2512 (English/Spanish)
MALDEF – Chicago Illinois (312)782-1422 (English/Spanish)
MALDEF – San Antonio Southwest (210)224-5476 (English/Spanish)
MALDEF – Washington D.C. Nationwide (202)293-2828 (English/Spanish)

[©2006, 2005, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the 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 fill out our information request and feedback form. 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.]