Federal law states that all minors must attend school to eighth grade or until they turn 16. In 1982, the Supreme Court ruled that states cannot deny schooling to anyone because of their immigration status.
Although this has been generally enforced, the arrival of more than 100,000 unaccompanied minors who have fled the violence in Central America has put enormous pressure on some school districts. An investigation carried out by Associated Press (AP) said that in some 35 such districts throughout 14 states – among them California and New York – many of these children have been barred from enrolling, kept out of class for months or routed to reform schools and adult programs.
One of the reasons most commonly cited to reject these children is the strict paperwork requirements that many of them are unable to meet. A 2014 survey by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) found that at least 86 school districts in that state discouraged immigrant children from enrolling in their schools. The analysis also showed that 73 districts required a birth certificate to sign up, 22 others required applicants to provide their exact date of arrival in the country; in 16 districts prospective students were asked about their immigration status; in 10 they were requested to see social security cards; in 6, applicants were asked if they were “immigrant workers,” and in 9 if they were U.S. citizens.
Some schools seem not to be aware of the McKinney-Vento Act, which refers to school enrollment for homeless children and applies to undocumented minors. In other cases, locally-managed districts do not have the funding to find where to send the kids.
In March 2015, the White House assigned $14 million in subsidies to districts receiving more than 50 unaccompanied minors. This amount signifies less than $175 per student, said the AP report.
In addition to these supplementary funds, it is necessary to improve the dissemination of information and materials at federal and state levels to make teachers and school administrators aware of what the law stipulates.
Today, like in 1982, the Supreme Court principle that “the long-range costs of excluding any children from the public schools may well outweigh the costs of educating them” still holds true.