Students in ClassroomOn January 30, 2017, the Connecticut State Department of Education (“CSDE”) released a memorandum titled, “Guidance for Districts Regarding Refugee Students,” in response to an Executive Order signed on January 27, 2017, restricting immigration into the United States.  The CSDE memorandum reaffirmed the obligation of public schools to provide children with an education regardless of their race, color, national origin, citizenship, immigration status, or the status of their parents.

The memorandum states that “[i]n Connecticut, we take that responsibility very seriously and have made a steadfast commitment to welcoming all children and families – including immigrants and refugees and populations that in other states and other places have not been met with the same open doors, nurturing environment, and commitment to high expectations for all that we pride ourselves on in Connecticut.” (Emphasis in the original).  The memorandum also urged districts to provide support to children who were experiencing “stress or anxiety stemming from the repercussions of the executive order.”

Along with the memorandum, the CSDE circulated a May 8, 2014, joint letter from the United States Departments of Justice and Education (“DOJ” and “ED”), which discussed the legal requirements for schools providing education to immigrant children.  Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits public schools from discriminating on the basis of, among other things, race, color, or national origin.  42 U.S.C. § 2000c-6.  Title VI of the Civil Rights Act prohibits public schools from using criteria or methods that have the effect of denying students access to schools’ programs and activities on the basis of students’ race, color, or national origin.  42 U.S.C. § 2000d.

Further, the Supreme Court held in the case of Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202 (1982), that Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment protections applied to immigrant children, including those children who may be in the country illegally.  The DOJ and ED letter states that “Plyler makes clear, the undocumented or non-citizen status of a student (or his or her parent guardian) is irrelevant to that student’s entitlement to an elementary and secondary public education.”

The executive order itself has been the subject of much debate since it was signed, including lawsuits filed by the States of Washington, Massachusetts, and New York, as well as a motion to intervene by the Commonwealth of Virginia in a suit filed by private citizens detained at Dulles International Airport on Saturday, January 28, 2017, as well as a refusal by former Acting-Attorney General Sally Yates to defend the order in federal court.  Further, on February 1, 2017, United States District Court Judge issued a temporary restraining order, requiring customs and immigration officials to allow individuals holding valid immigrant visas to enter the United States. [link to .pdf of the order].

As noted by the CSDE, the order has also caused anxiety for immigrant schoolchildren enrolled in Connecticut public school districts, as well as their parents and other members of the education community.  To date, we are not aware of any government action specifically pertaining to children of immigrants, but we will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates to the school community as further developments unfold.