Plyler vs. Doe
- A Summary -
In 1982, the Supreme Court rules in Plyler v. Doe
, 457 U.S. 202 (1982), that public schools were prohibited from
denying immigrant students access to a public education. The
Court stated that undocumented children have the same right to
a free public education as U.S. citizens and permanent residents.
Undocumented immigrant students are obligated, as are all other
students, to attend school until they reach the age mandated
by state law.
Public schools and school personnel are prohibited under Plyler
from adopting policies or taking actions that would deny students
access to education based on their immigration status.
Based on the Supreme Court's ruling, public school districts
should consider the following practices in working with ELL students:
- School officials may not require children to prove they are
in this country legally by asking for documents such as green
cards, citizenship papers, etc. They may only require proof that
the child lives within the school district attendance zone, just
as they might for any other child.
- Schools should be careful of unintentional attempts to document
students' legal status which lead to the possible "chilling"
of their Plyler rights.
- The following school practices are prohibited:
- Barring access to a student on the basis of legal status
or alleged legal status.
- Treating students disparately for residency determination
purposes on the basis of their undocumented status.
- Inquiring about a student's immigration status, including
requiring documentation of a student's legal status at initial
registration or at any other time.
- Making inquiries from a student or his/her parents which
may expose their legal status.
- Federal Program Requirements - Federal education programs
may ask for information from parents and students to determine
if students are eligible for various programs, such as Emergency
Immigrant Education. If that is the case, schools should ask
for voluntary information from parents and students or find alternative
ways of identifying and documenting the eligibility of students.
However, schools are not required to check or document the immigrant
status of each student in the school or of those students who
may be eligible for such programs. The regulations do not require
alien registration numbers or documentation of immigration status.
- Social Security Numbers - Schools should not require
students to apply for Social Security numbers. If schools decide
to pass out Social Security registration forms to assist the
Social Security Administration, they must tell parents and students,
in appropriate languages, that the application forms are merely
a service and it is up to the parents and students whether the
applications are actually filed. They should stress that schools
will not monitor the filing of these applications. Additionally,
schools should not require any student to supply a social security
- School Lunch Programs - In order to qualify for Free
or Reduced Lunch Programs, all applicants are required to furnish
either of the two following types of information:
- Social Security numbers of all household members over the
age of 21, should they have one
- For all household members above the age of 21 who do not
have a Social Security number, an indication of the application
that he or she does not possess one.
- If a student or household members over the age of 21 do not
have a Social Security number, "none" should be written
in that space or another identifying number could be assigned
by the school.
- Parents and students should be reminded that the Family Educational
Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) prohibits any outside agency,
including the Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS),
from getting this information without obtaining permission from
the student's parents or a valid court order.
- School lunch programs are interested in determining household
income, not in determining a student's legal status.
- Communication with INS - Any communication to INS
initiated by a school or school official concerning a specific
student is prohibited. If parents and/or students have questions
about their immigration status, school personnel should refer
them to legal service organizations, immigrant rights organizations,
or local immigration attorneys. They should not advise immigrants
to go directly to INS offices without first getting proper advice
from an attorney or immigrant rights advocate.
- Requests for information by INS - School personnel
are prohibited from cooperating with INS in any way that may
jeopardize an immigrant students' right of access (with the exception
of the administration of F-1 and J-1 visas). INS requests for
information can only be released upon the presentation of a valid
subpoena. All school personnel should be advised of this policy.
If a subpoena is presented, it may be advisable to check with
an attorney to properly check into the validity of the subpoena.
- Requests by INS to enter a school - School personnel
should not cooperate with INS in any manner that jeopardizes
immigrant students and their right of access. The school principal
should meet with INS officials in the front office with a credible
witness present, deny the INS officials consent, and request
to see a legal warrant. If a warrant is presented, the principal
should determine that it:
- Lists the school by its correct name and address
- Lists students by name
- Be signed by a judge
- Be less than ten days old
- Be served by an INS officer with proper identification.
School District Personnel should always consult an attorney
to clarify their duties and responsibilities under Plyler.
This document is intended solely for guidance.
"Immigrant Students: Their Legal Right of Access to Public
Schools. A Guide for Advocates and Educators" by John Willshire
Carrera, Esq. National Coalition of Advocates for Students. Boston
here to view the entire case