Know Your Education Rights for Students (and Parents) in Public Schools

escuela ninos
Written by Carmen Cornejo

All children are precious. This is a simple statement that everyone agrees on.

By law and through court decisions, the United States of America strives to provide quality education to all K-12 students regardless of who they are or who their parents are. However, too many times parents and advocates find themselves fighting to defend children’s rights to a quality education.

Immigrant children and their parents are particularly vulnerable to direct discrimination or attitudes that discourage their enrollment, presence and participation in educational settings.

The Supreme Court established in a court decision called Plyler vs. Doe that undocumented children have the same right to attend public schools as American citizens. Therefore, K-12 school districts are prohibited from:

• Denying enrollment based on the real or perceived legal status of students or their parents.

• Treating students or parents differently when verifying the local residency of the students.

• Promoting practices that deny student access to school services.

• Demanding that students or parents disclose their immigration situation.

• Demanding that parents produce driver’s licenses or other documents of identification so their children can be enrolled in school.

• Demanding the student produce a social security number as an admission requisite.

In short, it is unlawful for public school officials to require proof of U.S. citizenship for enrollment.

Public school officials may ask at enrollment for the following:

A) Student immunizations records

B) Documents that show your child’s name and age (such as a birth certificate). School officials must not use these documents to prove immigration status for enrollment.

C) Proof that your child lives in the school district.

Civil rights organizations like MALDEF (Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) have created guides for the educational community about the rights of children to education. You can download the Know Your K-12 Education Rights information here. 

You can report instances of student rights violations to MALDEF’s national office at 213-629-2512, or the Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education at 1-800-421-3481.