Public Education Rights of Undocumented Immigrants

Public Education Rights of Undocumented Immigrants
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Last updated: February 2012

All children in the United States have a right to a public education and schools must provide the same benefits and services to everyone. This includes children who do not have documentation to be in the United States and the children of parents who do not have documentation.

Does my immigration status matter?

No. The law guarantees immigrants and non-English speaking students a free public education from kindergarten through 12th grade up until the age of 21.

Also, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that undocumented children have the same right as U.S. citizens and permanent residents to receive a free public education.

Also, schools cannot require anything that might prevent children from attending school. This means that schools and school districts cannot require parents or adult guardians to provide information about their own or their child’s immigration status, or information that indicates immigration status.

Do I need a Social Security number?

No. Requiring a Social Security number prevents undocumented students from attending school, and that is against the law.

It is also against the rules for schools to require a Social Security number for services or benefits provided by the school.

If the school needs a number for identification or administrative purposes, the school should create a school number that has nothing to do with a person’s Social Security number.

Can my child participate in the school’s lunch and breakfast program?

Yes. When determining eligibility for free or reduced lunch and/or breakfast programs under the School Lunch Act, schools cannot reject students because they do not have a Social Security number or because of their immigration status. When applying for the program, parents should state on the application that they do not have a Social Security number. The information you provide to the school will only be used to get funding for the free lunch/breakfast program.

Can I ask for English classes?

Yes. Schools must help students overcome language barriers. If your child needs help learning English, you should ask the school for help.

Can my child participate in Special Education classes?

Yes. Schools must provide undocumented immigrant students the same benefits and services made available to other students. Special Education classes are a service provided by the school and therefore, that service must be made available to every student regardless of immigration status.

What are the rights of parents/students to get information and student records?

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

Can schools turn information over to immigration officials?

No. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) forbids schools from turning over a student’s file to federal immigration agents.

The school can turn the file over if a parent consents or if the information does not contain the student’s immigration status.

School officials are non-reporters. They do not have an obligation to report illegal immigrants to federal agents.

What documentation is required for enrollment?

If you live within the school district and are the parent or adult with whom the child regularly lives, then the school district is required by law to provide your child with an education.

You will have to prove your identity and the child’s identity, that you live within the district, and that the child has had proper medical care.

School districts are required by law to ask for a certified copy of a birth certificate of every newly enrolled child. If a birth certificate is unavailable, then other proof of the child's identity and age is required. You will also have to make a sworn statement explaining why the birth certificate cannot be produced.

How do I prove my residency?

If you do not have a driver’s license or state identification card, there are other ways to prove your residency. You just need to show that you live within the district’s boundaries.

Some examples of alternate identification include:

  • A library card
  • Employee identification
  • Utility bills
  • An apartment lease or deed to real estate
  • A notarized affidavit (sworn statement) of residency from the parent or person with whom the child is residing, affirming that the child eats and sleeps at the residence

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