Know the Law: Immigrant Children and K-12 Education

Know the Law: Immigrant Children and K-12 Education

Millions of children who are immigrants or children of immigrants in the United States may be coming to school uncertain of what the future holds for their families. These students should feel certain that their school is a safe place for themselves and their families. Here is what educators should know about the law:

  • Federal law mandates that state and local educational agencies provide all children with equal access to public education.
  • All means all. Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits states and schools districts from discriminating on the basis of race, color, or national origin. The 1982 Supreme Court case Plyer v. Doe ruled that a student cannot be denied enrolling in a public elementary or secondary school based on the student’s or a parent’s citizenship or immigration status. The Supreme Court argued that doing so is in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, which stipulates, “
    • “No state shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the law.”
  • School districts cannot request information with the intent of or that results in barring a student access to public education on the grounds of race, color or national origin. This includes documents used to establish residency for enrollment that would unlawfully prevent an undocumented student or a student whose parents are undocumented from enrolling.
    • School districts cannot inquire into students’ or their parents’ or guardians’ citizenship or immigration status or require students to provide a birth certificate or social security number to enroll, school districts can accept lease agreements, utility bills, and similar as lawful proof of residence.
  • School districts are not required to report the immigration status of students to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Voluntarily reporting undocumented students to ICE may be in violation of Plyer v. Doe (1982). Disclosing any information to ICE, or any other third party, contained in student records is in violation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) without parental consent or a subpoena.


Banks, A.M. (2012). Plyer v. Doe (1982). In J.A. Banks (Ed.). Encyclopedia of Diversity in Education. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Ariel Tichnor-Wagner, Ph.D., is the Senior Fellow of Global Competence at ASCD. In her role, she advocates for, develops, and implements innovative ways to support educators and education systems prepare students to thrive in a diverse, interconnected world. Ariel began her career teaching elementary school in Phoenix, Arizona, and received her doctoral degree in Education Policy, Leadership, and School Improvement from the School of Education at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill.  Her research on global competence and school improvement has appeared in a variety of scholarly journals.