Guides and Toolkits
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. Some teachers worry that, like mandated reporting for criminal offenses, they are supposed to report undocumented status. This is not true. In fact, schools are meant to be safe spaces in which students cannot be deterred from accessing their right to public schooling. Requesting, sharing, or reporting a family’s documentation status could do that. In addition, all families are protected under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) regardless of immigration status.
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.)
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