In the United States, every child is entitled to a free K-12 public education regardless of race, nationality, native language, gender, or immigration status, and is free to enjoy an education without the fear of unlawful discrimination or fear of deportation.
A violation of federal rights can sometimes be resolved by meeting with school or district officials, describing the problem, and agreeing to a plan to fix it. If this is ineffective and you believe that your or your child’s rights are being violated, please contact an attorney in your area, MALDEF’s national office at 213-629-2512, or the Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education at 1-800-421-3481.
The following is a partial list of federal rights guaranteed to all students in U.S. public schools and/or their parents. This is general legal information and is not intended to serve as legal advice to address any specific situation. For more information on education rights, please see “Parents’ Rights and Responsibilities” and “Rights of Language Minorities”.
- The Right of Immigrant Students To Enjoy Equal Access to K-12 Public School Programs
All children living in the United States have the right to a free K-12 public education. Immigrant children do not need a green card, visa, passport, alien registration number, social security number or any other proof of citizenship or immigration status in order to register for school. Schools are required to provide undocumented immigrant students equal access to the same benefits and services as all to other students. It is unlawful for a public school official to require proof of U.S. citizenship for enrollment.
- The Right to be Free from Unlawful Discrimination
Federal law protects you and your child from official government discrimination based upon race, ethnicity, gender, disability, immigration status, and/or national origin in K-12 public schools.
- The Right to Comprehensible School Information for Parents
Federal law requires states to develop programs to communicate with parents in the parents’ native language. This includes the right to a translator for parent-teacher conferences. If you require these services, you should ask the school for assistance and/or translation.
- The Right to Review Student Disciplinary Actions
Suspension and expulsion from school are the most serious penalties that school officials can impose. If your child is suspended from school, your child has a right to an informal hearing. If your child is expelled from school, you have a right to a formal hearing to which you may bring a lawyer. Federal law requires these hearings to assure that your child is not being treated unfairly.
- English Language Learners’ Right to Receive an Appropriate Education
School districts are required by law to develop special programs for children who need English language help. These programs (such as English as a Second Language or bilingual education classes) allow English Language Learners to eventually transfer into regular classes without falling behind in their studies. You may not be able to select a particular method of instruction, but you should make sure that your child is receiving appropriate education that takes into account his or her language ability.
- Parents’ Right to Review School Achievement Data, Participate in School Improvement Activities
Parents have the right to receive annual school and school district “report cards” that provide information about the academic performance of their child’s school and school district. This information must be provided in a language and format that is understandable to you. If a school consistently underperforms on state tests, parents may have the right to participate in school improvement programs. Please contact local school officials if you have questions about your access to these rights. Click here to learn more about MALDEF’s Parent School Partnership (PSP), a program designed to train parents on how to advocate for their children’s education.