Generally speaking: Undocumented students have a right to education

On October 1, Arlington Public Schools (APS) sent an email to students, staff and parents explaining their policy regarding students’ immigration status. The email emphasized the importance of school being a safe space and acting as a “second home,” assuring families that, in accordance with federal law, APS does not require information about a student’s citizenship status, share their confidential information with outside government agencies, enforce immigration law nor tolerate discrimination within the school. 

This email was an important step to take to ensure the safety and well-being of students within the county. Reassuring parents that their child will be allowed a safe education is a necessary and fair use of the public education system. A student’s right to education despite citizenship status has been guaranteed by the Supreme Court in Plyler v. Doe (1982). The case was decided under the basis that the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protections Clause secures the right of equal protection under the law to “any person within its jurisdiction.” This has been interpreted to mean these rights are guaranteed regardless of citizenship. By reassuring undocumented families that this security is within their rights, the school is following federal law and ensuring all those impacted by this law understand their circumstances. 

Undocumented children do not deserve the pressure of being in charge of their family’s well-being when they enter the school building, nor do they deserve a life without education. The circumstances of an undocumented student are anything but ideal, and neither is a solution based on plausable deniability. Children often have no control over their or their parents’ undocumented status. Public schools have always been a constant source of education for those with little control over their circumstances. When the system was established, it was designed to make a safe haven for non-Protestant immigrants and Protestants to attend school together. The school system functioned as a neutral party that would assimilate immigrants to American culture, according to Patricia Albjerg Graham in her book “Schooling America.” Therefore, the public school system has always been a place for all and should continue to be, no matter what political turmoil is taking place outside of it.

A public school system should always seek to educate, and by sending out this email, APS has done and vowed to do exactly that. The county cannot control what students have done or will do; it can only give them every resource to succeed and support them all.