School districts may not deny an education to undocumented children. No less than the highest court of the land decided this in the 1982 case, Plyler v. Doe.
The case involved a group of undocumented families who sued Texas to change a law that allowed the withholding of money from schools who educated noncitizens.
Justice William Brennan made it clear in his opinion for Plyler that the Texas law penalized minors for their parents’ actions. In his book, The Schoolhouse Gate, Justin Driver writes: “Brennan contended that the measure’s absolute exclusion of unauthorized immigrants from school severely burdened this vulnerable group. The complete absence of education would ‘impose a lifetime hardship’ on young unauthorized immigrants, harming not only their own economic prospects but also their ability to contribute to the nation’s civic life.”
Driver writes that the Plyler decision “has served as a vital bulwark against widespread efforts to deprive unauthorized immigrants of access to education. Plyler v. Doe’s guarantee that the schoolhouse doors cannot be closed to one of society’s most marginalized, vilified groups has allowed innumerable children to expand their minds and their horizons.”
It’s important to remember Plyler when you read this month’s cover story, “Safe Zone,” by Glenn Cook. In the 37 years since the decision, our nation has become even more diverse, with immigration — legal or not — a driving factor. Since then, challenges to the law have been defeated. However, actions taken on immigration enforcement can have the same effect of keeping children out of school or unable to take advantage of their education.
“Safe Zone” looks at the measures taken by school leaders in communities where children are worried about being separated from their parents and family. These districts have reached out to their families with support — interpreters, food, information — so students can feel safe enough within the schoolhouse to learn.
Until the next issue. . .