Written by Bridget Feldmann:
Last Friday, May 6th, the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Justice sent school regions nationwide a letter of rebuke on the fact that a number of public schools have been asking undocumented immigrants for papers. The letter is, in part, a response to recent reports and complaints of misbehavior on the part of educative administrators, but it also serves as a reminder to schools as they prepare for the intake of new students in the coming year. The letter states:
Recently, we have become aware of student enrollment 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. [We] write to remind you of the Federal obligation to provide equal educational opportunities to all children residing within your district and to offer our assistance in ensuring that you comply with the law.
The letter goes on to list past legislation that explicitly prohibits the recent actions of educational agencies. It also delineates the documents that schools can and cannot legally ask of a student’s family, but emphasizes that schools cannot show prejudice against those who cannot provide a social security number, or a United States birth certificate. And perhaps most importantly, the letter stresses:
Districts may not request information with the purpose or result of denying access to public schools on the basis of race, color or national origin.
This discriminatory practice was outlawed during the 1982 Supreme Court case of Plyer vs. Doe. The outcome affirmed the right of all students, grades K-12, to a free public education regardless of their citizenship status and States are forbidden to deny students access under federal law, and for good reason. According to the Huffington Post:
The Court ruled that denying public education could impose a lifetime of hardship on a discrete class of children not accountable for their disabling status.