In 1982, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Plyler vs. Doe [457 U.S. 202 (1982)] that undocumented children and young adults have the same right to attend public primary and secondary schools as do U.S. citizens and permanent residents. Like other children, undocumented students are required under state laws to attend school until they reach a legally mandated age.
As a result of the Plyler ruling, public schools may not:
- deny admission to a student during initial enrollment or at any other time on the basis of undocumented status;
- treat a student differently to determine residency;
- engage in any practices to "chill" the right of access to school;
- require students or parents to disclose or document their immigration status;
- make inquiries of students or parents that may expose their undocumented status; or
- require social security numbers from all students, as this may expose undocumented status.
Students without social security numbers should be assigned a number generated by the school. 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.
Recent changes in the F-1 (student) Visa Program do not change the Plyler rights of undocumented children. These changes apply only to students who apply for a student visa from outside the United States and are currently in the United States on an F-1 visa.
Also, the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) prohibits schools from providing any outside agency - including the Immigration and Naturalization Service - with any information from a child’s school file that would expose the student’s undocumented status without first getting permission from the student’s parents. The only exception is if an agency gets a court order (subpoena) that parents can then challenge.
Information for Families