Information on immigrant students' right to attend school, the documents required to enroll, and how to obtain English language (ESL) services or bilingual education.

Attention immigrant parents: all children are guaranteed access to public education!



It is important for you to know that education of your child from age 6 to 17 is mandatory in New York City. Despite many recent changes to U.S. immigration and welfare laws, public education is still available to all children from age 4 up to the age of 21 in New York, no matter what the parent or child's immigration status. Following are answers to questions you may have about registering your child in a New York City public school:


What do I need to register my child?

The documents needed for registration in public schools are:

·Proof of residency: schools have the right to ask if you live in the school district where you are enrolling your child. You may use a utility bill, a statement from your employer or social agency verifying your address, a medical insurance card, a voter registration card, bank statement, or mortgage statement. Telephone bills might not be accepted as proof of residency. If you are not the leaseholder, you may need a statement from the leaseholder that you and your child are living there.

·Proof of child's age: schools may ask for proof of your child?s age. You may use a birth or baptismal certificate. If you don?t have a birth certificate, you may be asked for some other proof of age. Your child should not be denied admission if you do not have a birth certificate, but you will have to show some proof of age.

·Immunization records: it is a law in New York State that children be immunized against the following diseases before they can enroll in school: diphtheria, polio (using the oral vaccine), measles, rubella, mumps, and tuberculosis (TB). Screening for TB and a medical exam are required for all students starting school for the very first time. If you are low-income and need help getting vaccinated, call the Immunization Hotline at (212) 349-2664 for a listing of health stations in New York City that provide free vaccinations. Despite the welfare and immigration laws of 1996, the government will still provide immunizations WITHOUT asking for verification of immigration status. If you have sincerely held religious belief that does not allow your child to be immunized, s/he may be exempted.

Do I have to wait for any documents in order to enroll my child?

Your child must be admitted to school immediately, even if you do not have past school records, adequate proof of residency, or proof of your child?s age. However, the school may exclude your child if he or she has not been properly immunized, or has not begun the immunization process. You may seek religious and medical exemptions from the immunization requirement.

My child came to America very recently and does not speak English. Will he or she be denied admission to school?

No. Students who speak little or no English have the right to attend public school and participate in their education equally with all other students. Your child may have the option to attend bilingual classes or English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. In a bilingual program, students are taught in English and in their native language. In ESL, students are taught English intensively and only in English.

My child needs help learning English. How can I be sure he gets it?

All parents must complete a Home Language Identification Survey (HLIS) when registering their child for school. If the parent?s responses to the HLIS show that a language other than English is spoken in the home, and that the child may not be proficient in English, the child must take the Language Assessment Battery-Revised (LAB-R) test. Students who score below a minimum cut-off score on this test must attend a bilingual program or ESL classes. You have the right to decide whether your child will take bilingual classes or ESL. If the school nearest you does not offer a bilingual program in your child?s language, you have the right to have your child transferred to a school that offers the right program. If no school in the city offers a bilingual program in your language, your child must take ESL. If you don?t want your child to be placed in a bilingual program, s/he must take ESL.

If I am asked for my immigration documents when I register my child for school, do I have to show them?

No. You do not have to show any documents or say anything about your immigration status or your child?s immigration status to enroll your child in school. No school personnel should ask you for these documents, or ask any questions about your immigration status, or that of your child.

I am undocumented, can my children go to school?

Yes. It is illegal to deny any child enrollment in schools because of the parent/child?s immigration status. Children have the legal obligation and right to go to school, regardless of immigration status.

I am undocumented. Will the school report me to the INS?

Do not give information related to your own or your child?s immigration status to any school employee. It is not necessary for enrollment. However, if you do, you should be aware that any information you do provide to school staff may not be entirely confidential. While the school is not required to report anyone to the INS, no one can be stopped from doing so. Therefore, you should not disclose your own or your child?s immigration status.

I am undocumented. Can my children still get school lunch?

Yes. If you meet income eligibility requirements to receive free or reduced cost school lunch, your children are eligible for this program. School lunches and school breakfasts are available to all children regardless of immigration status.

I don?t speak or read English. Can I get translated materials and an interpreter in order to communicate with my child?s school?

Yes, by law, parents who are limited-English proficient have the right to translation and interpretation of school-related information in order to participate in their child?s education. If you need assistance with this matter, please call Advocates for Children at 212.947.9779.

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Advocates for Children
151 W. 30th Street, 5th Floor
New York, NY 10001
Immigrants Rights Hotline
212.947.9779 x301

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Last Reviewed: November 25, 2008