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OCR Cautions Districts About Denying Student Enrollment Based on Immigration Status

May 13, 2011

On May 6, 2011, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued a “Dear Colleague” letter cautioning districts about any practices which deny a student enrollment in a public school based upon the student’s immigration status. While OCR acknowledged that public school districts may legally require evidence of a student’s actual residency in district, it noted that it has “become aware of student enrollment practices that may chill or discourage the participation, or lead to the exclusion, of students based on their or their parents’ or guardians’ actual or perceived citizenship or immigration status.” OCR noted that in Plyler v. Doe, the U.S. Supreme Court “makes clear, the undocumented or non-citizen status of a student (or his or her parent or guardian) is irrelevant to that student’s entitlement to an elementary or secondary public education.” Thus, while a district may require evidence of residency such as a mortgage, lease or utility bill, districts must take steps to ensure enrollment practices do not run afoul of federal law and district obligations to provide equal educational opportunities to all students residing within a district.

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