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SPLC praises Obama administration effort to ensure public school access for all children

The Obama administration has taken an important step to protect every child’s right to a public education, outlining the legal responsibilities of schools to provide equal access regardless of national origin or immigration status.

The Obama administration has taken an important step to protect every child’s right to a public education by releasing guidance today that outlines the legal responsibilities of schools to provide equal access regardless of a child’s or parent’s national origin or immigration status, the SPLC said.

“The Obama administration demonstrated today a commitment to one of our nation’s most fundamental ideals: public education,” said Jerri Katzerman, SPLC deputy legal director. “This guidance highlights the legal right of all children – regardless of their immigration status – to a public education as guaranteed by Plyler v. Doe more than 30 years ago. It is an important step to safeguard this right in school districts across the nation.

“But we also must recognize that equal access to education extends to parents: a child’s first and best advocates. This means schools must provide them with interpreters and translated documents. It means recognizing that education is more than academics, but access to extracurricular activities. It also means ensuring that children have the language supports in the classroom to overcome communication barriers that can prevent a student from reaching his or her potential.”

The comprehensive guidance addresses a number of barriers to education encountered by immigrant children and their parents. It emphasizes that school districts must be flexible when requiring documents to prove the age of a student and residency in the district. The guidance also stresses that if a public school district requests a student’s Social Security number, the school may not deny enrollment if the parent is unable or unwilling to provide the number. The district also must inform the parent that disclosure of the number is voluntary, provide the statutory or other basis upon which it is seeking the number and explain what uses will be made of it.

The SPLC has encountered a number of the problems highlighted by the guidance and has worked to protect the rights of immigrant students and their families across the Deep South. In Alabama, an SPLC lawsuit largely gutted an anti-immigrant law that included a provision requiring public schools to verify the immigration status of newly enrolled K-12 students.

Most recently, the SPLC intervened in Fort Payne, Ala., where a young man was denied enrollment in high school based on his national origin. It also has worked to ensure equal access to enrollment and extracurricular programs in Alabama schools.

In Louisiana, it successfully protected the rights of Latino children to attend a Head Start program in Jefferson Parish. The SPLC also has defended the rights of English language learners facing discrimination in schools.