Information for schools on ICE requests for access or information

Learn how to protect students and their information

As a teacher or administrator working in a public K-12 school in Massachusetts, you need to understand your rights and obligations with respect to requests for access or information by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The Attorney General’s Office (AGO) does not believe that ICE will conduct enforcement activities on school grounds or request information about students and their families. However, due to increased immigration enforcement in Massachusetts and around the country, you should take proactive steps to prepare for possible ICE activity at your school.

Ensuring equal access to education

ICE has recognized schools as sensitive locations where enforcement activities like searches and arrests are not allowed. This includes school grounds, places where educational activities or events are taking place, and school bus stops during the times of day when students are present.

The only time when ICE can engage in enforcement activities at sensitive locations is under special circumstances or if they have prior approval.

For more information on sensitive locations, visit the ICE website.

Your school is required to provide equal access to education to all students regardless of race, color, sex, gender identity, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or immigration status. Schools must meet this fundamental obligation and avoid policies that prevent or dissuade undocumented students from obtaining public education.

ICE agent activity at your school

If an ICE agent requests access to a student, contact the student’s parent or guardian, the school’s superintendent, and the school’s legal counsel to discuss a plan of action. In the meantime, ask the ICE agent to wait or return later.

Do not let an ICE agent question or remove a student from school without the consent of a parent or guardian unless the agent has a valid, judicial warrant. If the agent presents you with a warrant, your school (or your school’s legal counsel) should review it to confirm that it is a judicial rather than administrative warrant and to determine the scope of the search or arrest authority the warrant provides.

ICE requests for information

Under the Family Education and Privacy Rights Act of 1974 (FERPA), you cannot give a student’s personally identifiable information (PII) contained in education records to third parties without the written consent of a parent or guardian (or the student if they are 18 years of age or older).

The only times when you can release information without consent is if the information has been designated as “directory information,” or if you must comply with a judicial order or lawfully issued subpoena.

Examples of directory information:

  • A student’s name
  • A student’s address
  • A student’s phone number
  • A student’s grade level
  • A student’s dates of attendance
  • A student’s participation in officially recognized activities and sports
  • Honors and awards received by a student

Directory information does not include citizenship or immigration status.

Schools must make a reasonable effort to inform a parent or eligible student whose information is requested by ICE so that they might have time to seek a protective order or other relief.

Information schools should not collect and maintain

Do not collect or maintain information relating specifically to the immigration status of students or their parents. This information could include passport information, visa information, and Social Security numbers. You shouldn’t need this information to educate students and collecting it creates a risk of deterring the enrollment of undocumented and non-citizen students.

Schools are sometimes required to collect and maintain information that relates to participation in programs or activities that may be associated with immigration status. Making sure you only obtain necessary information will help ensure equal access to education for all students, as required by federal and state law.

How you can protect students and their information

  • Review the information you collect and ensure it doesn’t exceed what is strictly necessary
  • Remember that directory information can be released under FERPA without a student or their guardian's consent. Review your school’s policies on what is defined as directory information. If possible, limit the scope of that definition. Information on students’ places of birth or primary language spoken at home should be eliminated from directory information.
  • Tell students and their families what is considered directory information. Allow them to opt-out of having their information disclosed. When possible, communicate to parents about directory information in their primary language.

Taking these steps will help protect students and their information. Doing so is also consistent with your legal obligation to provide all students with equal access to education and will help send the message that all students are welcome and safe, regardless of immigration status.

What to do if your student’s parents are taken into ICE custody

While this is unlikely to occur, it is still useful to be prepared.

  • Give families regular opportunities to update their emergency contact information and give alternative contacts if a parent or guardian is unavailable
  • Suggest that families create their own safety or preparedness plans, which can be shared with the school. Plans could include instructions on what to do if a parent becomes unavailable, including designated guardians or others authorized to pick up the student from school
  • Review your school’s policy to make sure it includes steps to take if a student cannot safely return home because his or her parent is not present

Contacting the Attorney General’s Office

If you have questions or need further assistance, contact the Civil Rights Division of the Office of the Attorney General at (617) 963-2917.

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