Immigrant Students' Rights 
to Attend Public Schools
School Opening Alert and Resources
August 10, 2022 - As a new school year begins, this alert is a reminder that public schools, by law, must serve all children.

See IDRA's bilingual infographic: Welcoming Immigrant Students in School, which is also available as a poster. Other free resources and tools are available online. 

Education of undocumented students is guaranteed by the Plyler vs. Doe decision, and certain procedures must be followed when registering immigrant children in school to avoid violation of their civil rights. 

In Plyler vs. Doe, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that children of undocumented workers and children who themselves are undocumented have the same right to attend public primary and secondary schools as do U.S. citizens and permanent residents. Like other students, children of undocumented workers in fact are required under state laws to attend school until they reach a mandated age. 
School personnel - especially principals and those involved with student registration and enrollment - should be aware that they have no legal obligation to enforce U.S. immigration laws.

This decision is vital because practices that deny or discourage immigrant children and families from public schooling hurt children and families.

• Public schools may not deny admission to a student during initial enrollment or at any other time on the basis of undocumented status.

• Schools cannot treat a student differently to determine residency.

• Schools cannot engage in any practices to "chill" the right of access to school.

• Schools cannot require students or parents to disclose or document their immigration status.

• Schools cannot make inquiries of students or parents intended to expose their undocumented status.

• And schools cannot require social security numbers from all students, as this may expose undocumented status.
Learn More About Plyler v Doe
In June, IDRA honored the 40th anniversary of the Plyler v Doe decision with a set of tools, including a video featuring Dr. Albert Cortez, who testified in one of the cases in Texas. He sat down with IDRA chief legal analyst, Paige Duggins-Clay, J.D., to discuss the history of the case, the plaintiffs, the arguments, and the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
Key Details for Schools
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.
Visit IDRA's Education of Immigrant Children webpage for resources, including a copy of the letter from the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education and state-level information on student enrollment in the states served by the IDRA EAC-South.
Useful Tools
See our updated eBook on Supporting Immigrant Students' Rights to Attend Public Schools with resources for schools and communities (English-Spanish). 
Print our infographic on Welcoming Immigrant Students in School available in poster size!
Get our printable School Opening Alert (in English-Spanish) and share it with others.
Free Webinars on Education for Immigrant Families
IDRA and the Consulate General of Mexico in San Antonio have been partnering to help Mexican and Mexican American families navigate the U.S.  education system and learn about important educational opportunities in both countries.

IDRA's Ventanilla de Orientación Educativa (VOE) in San Antonio launched a portal with bilingual materials and videos for families.

* Rights of Immigrant Students (PreK-12)
* Navigating the U.S. K-12 Education System 
* College Financial Aid Opportunities for Immigrant Students
* Adult & Community Education Opportunities in Spanish
* Educational Opportunities in Mexico for Nationals Living in Both Countries
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Our mission is to achieve equal educational opportunity for every child through strong public schools that prepare all students to access and succeed in college.