MIAMI (CBS4) — The U.S. Department of Education sent a letter to districts around the country Friday, reminding them that all students – legal or not – are entitled to a public education.

The letter comes amid reports that schools may be checking the immigration status of students trying to enroll, and reminds districts they are federally prohibited from barring elementary or secondary students on the basis of citizenship status.

“Moreover, districts may not request information with the purpose or result of denying access to public schools on the basis of race, color or national origin,” said the letter, which was signed by officials from the department’s Office of Civil Rights and the Department of Justice.

“We put this letter out now because we know school districts are in the process of planning for the next school year, and wanted to make sure they had this in hand,” said Department of Education spokesman Justin Hamilton. “We were concerned about the number of reports that we’ve received and heard about, and felt it was necessary to make it clear that this has been the law of the land since Ronald Reagan was president.”

A 1982 Supreme Court case, Plyer v. Doe, held that states cannot deny students access to public education, whether they are in the U.S. legally or not. The court ruled that denying public education could impose a lifetime of hardship “on a discrete class of children not accountable for their disabling status.”

The letter comes as the Office of Civil Rights investigates three complaints, and less than a week before the president is expected to deliver a speech on immigration during a visit to Texas.

The Office of Civil Rights is also currently evaluating a complaint filed last month by the Southern Poverty Law Center against schools in Durham County, N.C.

The organization claims discrimination against Latino students. In one instance, a girl attempting to enroll in a district high school was asked for her passport and visa and was told that if she didn’t have one, she must be an illegal alien, said attorney Gerri Katzerman.

Ken Soo, a lawyer representing Durham Public Schools, said the district was looking into the complaint and would correct any problems found.

Katzerman said the issue has become increasingly common in the Deep South as demographics change and more Latino families move in.

“We hear from them a very similar experience, where they attempt to enroll and are asked about their immigration status, are asked for documents they don’t have, and they basically disappear back into the population without having the opportunity to participate in public education,” she said.

Civil rights officials are also investigating a complaint in Hazleton, Penn., where school officials considered requiring four proofs of residency for new students. The proposal has been changed, though some believe the requirements are still too onerous.

Legislation has been introduced in a number of states this year that would authorize districts to inquire about immigration status when students enroll in the district.

Republican Rep. Becky Nordgren, of Alabama, for example, sponsored a bill that would have required students and their parents to provide proof of citizenship to enroll. She said her district has seen a rise in the number of undocumented immigrants and that this has placed an undue cost on the local government.

“Quite frankly, I believe that these issues need to be addressed,” she said.

Nordgren said that her bill stalled after she learned about the 1982 Supreme Court case.

The letter Friday said districts can require students to provide proof of residency within a district, such as phone or water bills, but that immigration status would not be relevant. Districts can also require a birth certificate to confirm a student’s age, but cannot bar enrollment if the certificate is from another country. Nor can they deny enrollment if a student does not provide a social security number.

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Comments (10)
  1. alejandroomi says:


  2. Mary Sharp says:

    Our government is so corrupt, They contridict themselves constantly.. lol.. First they want to send the illegal aliens back to their countriies,, but then they give the illegals premission to enter our school system paying them with our tax dollars that we so despirately need for the people whom were born in this country.. What is the deal Mr. President..? tyvm

    1. lovelymom says:

      This President had nothing to do with the federal bill. Look it up, It was President Regan who signed it into law and started the ball rolling!!! So to everyone that is complaining, STOP it’s just plain annoying!!!

  3. JoseMaria says:

    In Miami that policy is costing us billions.

    And I agree with it, but it is making us go into debt as a nation.

    1. NMB305 says:

      You are absolutely right.

      There should be a law forcing the government to publish how much we are paying to feed, house, clothe and educate the world’s poor.

      It is a noble quest, but it is way out of control.

    2. NIcole says:

      No! Corporate welfare has put us in debt. Tax the corporations!

  4. Kurt Webster says:

    I’m a Veteran who put money into the GI Bill 10 yrs. use or lose it and I lost it, Now that money is being spent on illegal aliens education, you got be kidding me.

  5. Mari Lancis Rudd says:

    Denying a child an education is a crime. Anyone that believes that because they don’t have a piece of paper they are not worth educating is promoting the decline of our nation and increasing illiteracy in a country that is way down there in the ranks of third world nation educational levels. That citizens of the greatest nation on the planet have these feelings makes us a lesser nation.

    Shame on you that think that way.

    “Los ninnos son la esperanza del Mundo” Jose Marti

    translation: Children are the hope of the World.

  6. Mari Lancis Rudd says:

    Kurt, you lost the opportunity, No one denied it. My two GII sons used it.

  7. Pat S. says:

    please stop helping other countries with our education system. We already send big bucks all over the world. Let’s worry about our country before we help others.Some of us are struggling with gas prices, food prices and unemployment problems. Give us a break for awhile.

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