School Registration: ELLs and Immigrant Students

Learn more about registration and enrollment policies for ELLs and immigrant students in U.S. public schools. We highly recommend our related video interview from Attorney Roger Rosenthal, as well as this tip sheet from the American Federation of Teachers, for additional information.

Photo credit: Becoming Bilingual (PBS Launching Young Readers series).

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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.)

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Laws and Policies: Immigrant Students in U.S. Schools

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.