Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Feds Remind Schools That They Cannot Turn Away Undocumented Children

The U.S. Supreme Court decided long ago that undocumented immigrant children have the right to a public education in this country with the 1982 Plyler v. Doe decision. 

But after all these years, resistance to the decision is demonstrated in the challenges that some immigrant families face when they try to enroll their children in school. 

On Thursday, the the Education and Justice Departments released new guidance reminding districts that they must admit such students. 

“Sadly too many schools and districts are still denying rights to undocumented children,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said, according to The New York Times. “That behavior is unacceptable, and it must change.”

Some parents have faced difficulties when districts attempt to ask them for state IDs or students for social security numbers. However, they just need to provide proof of residency within school district boundaries, with a bill for example — and don’t need to prove legal presence in the country.

The government guidance said that officials had recently become aware of district practices “that may chill or discourage the participation, or lead to the exclusion, of students based on their or their parents’ or guardians’ actual or perceived citizenship or immigration status.” 

The Times reported that government officials said they investigated 17 complaints over three years related to the issue that resulted in legal action.

In recent years, the Southern Poverty Law Center has called attention to cases in which immigrant families faced challenges in enrolling their children.

In a statement, SPLC deputy legal director Jerri Katzerman called the directive “an important step to safeguard this right in school districts across the nation.”

Katzerman added that access to schools must also be ensured to parents, facilitated through supports such as interpreters and materials that are translated into the parent’s native language.

To learn more about the Plyler case, you can watch this series of video interviews with key figures in the case that I put together for the 25th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision.