DOJ and DOE push for enforcement of educational equality

Often, immigrants with school-aged children and questionable legal status may be fearful of enrolling their children in public school, as they lack awareness of the mandated law concerning the basic right of all children residing in the US the opportunity to attend elementary and secondary level public schools, regardless of their immigration status.

Federal, state, and local law mandate that educational agencies provide all children with equal access to public education, regardless of race, color, national origin, perceived citizenship or immigration status. The specific laws which prohibit discrimination based on these specific factors were enacted through numerous statutes, including Titles IV and VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as the landmark case Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202 (1982), which was upheld by the US Supreme Court, and says that a State may not deny access to basic public education to any child residing in the State, whether present in the US legally or otherwise. In other words, the undocumented or non-citizen status of a student (or his or her parent) holds no relevance to that student’s entitlement to an elementary or secondary public education.

A recent press release by the Department of Justice (DOJ) not only serves as a reminder that it is in fact unlawful to discriminate against any student enrolled in an elementary or secondary level public school, but also provides assistance to public schools to ensure that the administration both understands the law and dutifully enforces it correctly.

Some of the permissible enrollment practices are as follows:

  • Although a district may require proof residency for the student (i.e. gas bill, lease), the district may not inquire into the student/parent/guardian citizenship or immigration status;
  • While it is acceptable for the district to ask for a birth certificate, the school cannot bar a student from enrollment because he or she lacks a birth certificate or has birth records indicating a foreign place of birth;
  • Federal law may obligate a school district to report certain data such as race and ethnicity, however this data may not be used as a reason for denial of a student’s enrollment;
  • Many districts also require Social Security numbers for enrollment, however, again, districts cannot deny a student enrollment based on the lack of a Social Security number;

Law is mandated for a reason, to protect the civil rights of people, barring discrimination. We at Sharma Law feel that it is important that those migrating to the US feel a sense of security that their children will not be affected in terms of their education, as they too are protected under the laws of the US.