In the past year, more than 50,000 children have fled violence and persecution from Central America and Mexico and have crossed into the U.S. seeking protection. Most of them have been reunited with family members in America as they await their immigration court dates. In the meantime, our laws require that they attend school. While many of the children have enrolled in public schools across the country, there have been reports that several have been denied enrollment or have encountered multiple obstacles in accessing education.

In October, The New York Times reported on irregularities with enrollment in Long Island:

The students, many of whom are newly arrived immigrants, say they successfully enrolled in the summer or early fall, but were warned by Hempstead administrators that there was not enough space or teachers to accommodate them. Instead of attending classes, the students say, they have been told to sign in for attendance at school a few mornings each week. Then they return home for the rest of the day.

A survey of New York school districts conducted by New York Civil Liberties Union found that as many as 20 percent of schools on Long Island were erecting illegal barriers to unaccompanied or undocumented students, “possibly creating a chilling effect on such students and attempting to register.” And the New York Times also reported, the Hempstead Union Free School District in Long Island, New York, had excluded at least 33 immigrant students from classes. This prompted the state education department to open an investigation and to ensure all schools are complying with federal law.

In May, the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice attempted to preempt such issues by issuing a letter to local and state school officials around the country making it clear that minors who are in the country without proper documents must be allowed to enroll in schools:

To comply with these Federal civil rights laws, as well as the mandates of the Supreme Court, you must ensure that you do not discriminate on the basis of race, color, or national origin, and that students are not barred from enrolling in public schools at the elementary and secondary level on the basis of their own citizenship or immigration status or that of their parents or guardians.

The letter reminds school officials of their obligation under federal law to provide equal educational opportunities to all children residing in their districts. It also reinforces the fact that immigrant students and their parents have rights when enrolling into a public school.

Photo Courtesy of the U.S. Department of Education.

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