For Immediate Release - March 02, 2017

AG Healey Reminds Public Schools About Laws Requiring Equal Access to Education Regardless of Immigration Status

AG Issues Advisory to Local School Districts that will be Distributed by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

BOSTON – Attorney General Maura Healey today issued an advisory reminding local public school districts of their obligation under state and federal law to provide all students with equal access to primary and secondary education, irrespective of citizenship or immigration status.

The advisory has been posted on the AG’s website and will be distributed by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to school officials this week.

“In Massachusetts and across this country, we open our schools to all children because that is how we build a productive, educated, and safe society,” said AG Healey. “In light of the current climate around matters of immigration, parents should not be afraid to send their children to school. I am glad to partner with our local schools to ensure that all children receive an education free from discrimination.”

“I am proud of our educators’ commitment to providing all students with a safe learning environment. Educating and supporting all students strengthens our communities and our Commonwealth as a whole,” said Massachusetts Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester. “I am happy to work with the Attorney General to share this guidance.”

Under state and federal law, state educational agencies and local school districts must provide all elementary and secondary students with equal access to public education—irrespective of race, color, sex, gender identity, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or immigration status. Those laws include the Massachusetts Student Anti-Discrimination Act, the Massachusetts Anti-Bullying Law, and Title IV and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Enrollment practices that single out students based on their actual or perceived citizenship or immigration status (or that of their parents or guardians) violate state and federal law. Equal access to public education means not only the right to enroll in school, but also the right to an education free from unlawful discrimination and harassment.         

In addition to the various applicable state and federal laws, in the case Plyler v. Doe, the U.S. Supreme Court held that public elementary and secondary schools may not deny any child residing in the applicable jurisdiction access to public education—whether the child is present in the country legally or not. This case made clear that a child’s immigration or citizenship status is not relevant to the child’s right to a public education. 

For questions or further assistance, please contact the Civil Rights Division of the Office of the Attorney General at (617) 963-2917 or http://www.mass.gov/ago/civilrights.