Schools should not use Social Security numbers for identification or registration purposes. For those schools that do, it should be clear from the beginning that students who do not present a Social Security number will be assigned a number generated by the school.
While schools may request a birth certificate, they may not bar students from enrolling if they do not have a birth certificate. Adults without Social Security numbers who are applying for a free lunch and/or breakfast program for a student need only state on the application that they do not have a Social Security number.
The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act prohibits schools from providing any outside agency (including the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency) with any information from a child's school file that would expose the student's undocumented status. The only exception is if an agency gets a court order (subpoena) that parents can then challenge. Schools should note that even requesting such permission from parents might act to “chill” a student's Plyler rights.
The U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education in 2014 clarified the intent of the Plyler ruling in a letter advising school officials that activities that deny or discourage students to attend school are unlawful. The letter begins, “Under federal law, state and local educational agencies are required to provide all children with equal access to public education at the elementary and secondary level.”
At IDRA, we are working to strengthen schools to work for all children, families and communities. Help us make this goal a reality for every child; we simply cannot afford the alternatives. Denying children of undocumented workers access to an education is unconstitutional and against the law.