The Obama administration issued guidelines Thursday to ensure children can enroll in public schools even if they or their parents are living illegally in the United States.
The legal guidance from the Justice and Education departments allow school districts and states to ask for proof of students' age or that they are residents in the jurisdictions where they attend school. But schools can't require proof of citizenship or block students if parents can't prove their legal residency.
Attorney General Eric Holder said the legal guidance is in reaction to reports from around the country that some school districts have identification requirements that create hurdles for undocumented children to enroll in public schools, in violation of federal law.
Holder cited a 1982 Supreme Court decision that ordered states to provide education to any child living in their jurisdiction. "Public school districts have an obligation to enroll students regardless of immigration status and without discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin," the attorney general said.
Schools have to be flexible about the proof of residency they can ask of parents, the guidelines issued Thursday say.
Administrators can ask for utility bills or apartment lease agreements to show a student lives in the district where they are attending school. They may ask for a parent's driver's license. But only to establish residency, not to determine legal immigration status, the guidelines say.
They also may ask for legal certification to show a child's age. But schools can't turn away students who can't provide a birth certificate or whose parents refuse to provide a Social Security number for the child or parent.
The Obama administration issued legal guidance to states and school districts in 2011, but some problems have persisted.
"We want to be sure every school leader understands the legal requirements under the Constitution and federal laws, and it is our hope that this update will address some of the misperceptions out there," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement.
The rules also are intended to help remove hurdles for children who are homeless and whose parents may not be able to prove their residency in a school district, the departments said