Serving and Supporting Immigrant Students: Information for Schools
The following information outlines what schools need to know about serving students who are immigrants or children of immigrants. Recommended resources and updates regarding changing immigration policies are also available below. We will continue to add updates as they become available.
For additional information, see Immigrant and Refugee Children: A Guide for Educators and School Support Staff from Teaching Tolerance.
Take our survey: We want to hear from you! Is your school taking steps to show support for immigrant families? If so (or if you'd like to see more being done), share your thoughts in our confidential online survey.
Does immigration status affect whether students can enroll in U.S. public schools?
No. Every child has a constitutional right to a free public education, regardless of his/her immigration status or parents' immigration status.
Can schools ask about a student's immigration status during enrollment?
No. Public school districts have an obligation to enroll students regardless of their immigration status and without discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin.
Which documents are schools allowed to request during enrollment?
Schools are allowed to request proof of residency in the school district and proof of age. However, the district may not prevent or discourage a child from enrolling based on the documentation presented, such as a foreign birth certificate. For detailed information on what is and is not acceptable, see this fact sheet from the U.S. Department of Education, as well as the following video interview with immigration attorney Roger Rosenthal. (The transcript of this interview is also available.)
Roger Rosenthal: FAQ on Enrolling Immigrant Students
Can immigration enforcement take place in schools?
No. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security limits immigration enforcement from taking place at "sensitive locations." These include schools, licensed day cares, school bus stops, colleges and universities, educational programs, medical treatment facilities, places of worships, religious or civil ceremonies such as funerals and weddings, and during public demonstrations. See more in this fact sheet prepared by the U.S. Department of Education and learn more about the impact of immigration enforcement on children from this resource page from Teaching Tolerance.
Note: Teaching Tolerance advises that "the sensitive locations policy memorandum may be reversed. School leaders should stay informed about possible changes."
Do schools report student information to immigration?
From Illinois Legal Aid Online: No. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) does not allow schools to turn over a student’s file to federal immigration agents. The school can turn the file over if a parent consents and gives them permission or if the information does not contain the student’s immigration status. School officials are non-reporters. They are not required to report undocumented immigrants to federal agents. Any parent or guardian can ask for their child's school for information or their student records. Your immigration status or the immigration status of your child does not matter. (See more from Teaching Tolerance.)
How many children live in "mixed-status" households?
According to Teaching Tolerance, 4.1 million U.S.-born children live with at least one parent or family member who is undocumented. Children may not know their own immigration status or the status of their parents, siblings, and relatives. It is possible for a child who is documented to have a sibling who is undocumented, and vice versa. A child who is born in the U.S. may have one or two parents who are undocumented.
Laws and Policies: Immigrant Students in U.S. Schools
- Dear Colleague Letter: Joint Letter from the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Justice (2014): Under Federal law, States and local educational agencies are obligated to provide all children – regardless of immigration status – with equal access to public education at the elementary and secondary level. This includes children such as unaccompanied children who may be involved in immigration proceedings. The U.S. Departments of Education and Justice published a joint guidance letter [PDF, 171KB], a fact sheet [PDF, 568KB] and a set of Questions and Answers [PDF, 311KB] on this topic.
- Educational Services for Immigrant Children: What Schools Need to Know: The U.S. Departments of Education and Justice released fact sheets, FAQs, and enrollment guidance related to the educational services for immigrant children and families in January 2015. These fact sheets (also available in Spanish) and the Civil Rights information provide a summary of what schools need to know.
Plyler vs. Doe: A Landmark Supreme Court Case
Plyler vs. Doe is the court case that guaranteed undocumented students a right to a free public education in U.S. schools. Learn more from the following fact sheets and from our interview with Attorney Roger Rosenthal.
- Fact Sheet: Public Education for Immigrant Students: Understanding Plyler v. Doe (American Immigration Council)
- Plyler v. Doe: Still Guaranteeing Unauthorized Immigrant Children's Right to Attend U.S. Public Schools (Migration Policy Institute)
- Plyler v. Doe: Roger Rosenthal explains its significance for U.S. schools
School and District Responses
- Denver Public Schools: Bilingual Immigration FAQ from 11/14/16: These FAQs were issued by Denver Public Schools on Nov. 14, 2016. While some questions relate directly to Denver policies, much of the information is relevant to public schools nationwide and can be used as reference for similar documents. The document is available English, Spanish, Arabic, and Vietnamese.
- New York City Department of Education's Chancellor Letter and Immigration FAQ in 10 languages (NYC Department of Education website)
- Des Moines Public Schools Statement
- Ann Arbor, MI Public Schools Statement
- 120 Educators Attend Education Austin Training Session on Immigrant Rights (Austin American-Statesman)
- President Trump's Immigration Order, Annotated (The New York Times)
- Analyzing Trump's Immigration Ban: A Lesson Plan (The New York Times)
- 3 Ways to Address the Latest News on Immigration With Your Students (Facing History)
- What Do I Say to Students? (Teaching Tolerance)
- Understanding Trump's Executive Order on Refugee Resettlement: Translations in 14 languages (Refugee Center Online)
- Resources on Immigration and Refugee Concerns (TESOL)
- Post-Election Talking Points and Resources on DACA and Immigration (Immigrant Legal Resource Center)
- Post-Election: Recommendations for School Administrators, Educators, Counselors, and Undocumented Students (My (Un)Documented Life)
Serving ELLs & Immigrant Students
- U.S. Department of Education: English Learner Tool Kit
- All In! How Educators Can Advocate for English Language Learners
- Unaccompanied Children in Schools: What You Need to Know
- Immigrant and Refugee Children: Tools and Resources to Help Protect and Prepare Youth and Families in Event of an Immigration Raid
- Help for Immigrant Families Post-Election
- Information on Special Populations: Refugee Students
- Booklists for Kids, Teens, and Teachers on Refugees
- Cultural Orientation Resource Center: Information on Refugees
Making Students Feel Welcome
- SupportEd: Top 10 Ways to Support ELLs in 2017 by Dr. Diane Staehr Fenner
- Supporting Special Populations such as Refugees and Unaccompanied Children
- 8 Tips to Protect ELLs from Bullying in Your Classroom and School
- Creating a Welcoming Classroom for ELLs
- When We Stop Counting: How One District in Rural Nebraska Welcomed New ELL Families
- Education Week: A Primer on Helping Immigrant Students Feel Welcome in School
- Welcoming America Network: Resources and Ideas
- Anti-Defamation League: Myths and Facts about Immigrants and Immigration
- Anti-Defamation League: Myths and Facts about Muslim People and Islam
- Baltimore City School District: Social Support Services for ELLs
- Resources for Promoting Safe, Healthy and Welcoming Schools
- Hartford Courant: In Nebraska, Syrian Refugees Find a Warm and Welcoming Community