Remember: All children in the US have the right to go to school and learn, including you! No matter what your (or your sponsor’s) immigration status is, you can attend school and participate in sports and afterschool activities. If you or your sponsor have questions about how to enroll in school, reach out to us and we can help!
This article will answer five major questions about enrolling in public school (click on the question below to go to the answer):
- Why is it important for me to go to school?
- How do I find the right school for me and enroll?
- What documents might I need to enroll in school?
- What are my rights when enrolling and being in school?
- What are some options to help me finish school or go to school and work?
It’s important that you go to class every day to make sure you receive credit and graduate. Going to school regularly can also help the immigration judge see that you are doing your best to adapt to life in the US.
If you are worried about going to school, because you think you are too old, or that it might be too difficult—talk to your school counselor, case worker, or contact us! There can be different school options and programs that can make it easier for you to:
- Learn about different subjects in your own language and with children your own age
- Make friends and meet new people,
- Play sports or join other activities, and
- Learn about different career paths for your future
Depending on the state and school district where you live, you may have several options when selecting a school. It is important to find the right school and program for you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! You and your sponsor can ask questions about:
- Taking classes that are taught in Spanish and English Language Learner (ELL) programs
- Having an interpreter for back-to-school night or any other meetings with your teachers,
- Exploring alternative programs or charter schools that focus on math, science, technology, or any other subjects that may interest you,
- Participating in sports, music, theater and art programs the school offers,
- Enrolling in career or apprenticeship opportunities
The requirements for enrolling in school often vary for each state and school district, but in general, you need to:
- Find out which school district you are in and the school(s) you can attend. You can search for public schools near you online, or click here and enter your city or zip code.
- Check the enrollment requirements for your specific school on their website. You can also call the enrollment office to speak to someone over the phone or in person.
By law, all children are required to go to school and your parent or sponsor can help enroll you in school, so you can start classes as soon as possible. You can find a good overview of education laws, levels of school, enrolling in school, and more about public school in the US here.
If you need help finding a school near you or enrolling in school, reach out to us!
Sometimes the documents required to enroll in school vary from state to state. In general, the documents listed below are what you will need to enroll in public school:
Proof of Age:
This can be a birth certificate or other document such as a religious, hospital or physician’s certificate showing date of birth, an adoption record, affidavits, or other records.
Proof of Address in the School District:
This can include copies of phone and water bills, mortgage or rent payments, lease agreements, affidavits, etc. If your sponsor cannot provide a proof of address, the school should allow you to submit other forms of documentation (a letter, affidavit, etc.).
Proof of Guardianship (if sponsor is not a parent):
Depending on which state you are in, there are different guardianship rules for what documents need to be submitted (affidavit, power of attorney, etc). You can talk to your sponsor about what documents they have and your caseworker can also review this information.
Proof of Immunization or Health Records:
You are often given several vaccinations while at the shelter. Your sponsor should have a copy of your medical and immunization records, as part of your release packet (when you left the shelter with your sponsor). If you or your sponsor do not have these records, you can call and request a new copy from your caseworker or shelter.
Enrollment or Registration Forms:
Each school district may have its own form that you (and your sponsor) need to fill out to enroll you in school. This form can often be on the school district’s website, or you can go to the school to get the form. After filling out the enrollment form, your sponsor can submit it with the documentation you have. Don’t worry if you don’t have every document that is requested! Schools often accept alternate documents and allow children to enroll and start going to classes while additional documents are being collected.
For more information about how to enroll in public school in the US, attendance and absences, what you need to bring to school and how to get to school, visit USA Hello: https://usahello.org/education/children/public-school/#public-school-activities
It’s important to know your rights when enrolling in school and going to classes. Even though a school may ask you for many documents to enroll, not all of these documents are required for you to enroll. For example, schools are NOT allowed to do the following things:
- Require proof of citizenship or immigration status
- Require state-issued ID or driver’s license of the sponsor
- Deny a homeless child or a child living in temporary housing from enrolling in school
- Prevent you from enrolling if you have no birth certificate or social security number; Some schools may request a social security number as a form of identification, but it is not required to enroll
It’s also important to know your rights when you go to class. No matter what state you live in, you have the following rights:
Language Assistance: If English is not your first language, you must receive language assistance services so it is easier for you to participate in your classes and learn.
Information in Your Preferred Language: Any information or announcements from your school should be in your preferred language.
- Extra Support: If you need extra help or are struggling in school, you can ask the school for additional support and/or an evaluation in your preferred language
- The Immigrant and Refugee Student Bill of Rights shares additional rights that you have as a student born outside of the US: https://www.elc-pa.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Immigrant-and-Refugee-Student-Bill-of-Rights-1.pdf
Some states have alternative school programs that help you graduate and get your diploma. If you really want or need to work, there are also options that allow you to go to work during the day and go to school in the evenings or on weekends. If you are interested in exploring alternative options for finishing school, you should talk to your school counselor about what options are available at your school or in your area. We have also provided some resources below:
InformedImmigrant.com provides a Guide for Undocumented High School and College Students that explains different options you might have after graduating from high school. Some of these options include finding a job and working, enrolling in a technical school (also known as a vocational or trade school) that trains you for a specific job, attending a college program, joining a bootcamp, and more.
- Advocates for Children of New York provides a list of alternative options for high school students living in New York City here. They also explain some of your rights (such as your right to return to school, what to do if your school sends you home, what to do if you are pregnant, etc) here.
In California there is an alternative high school diploma program known as “Continuation Education” for children between 16 and 18 years old who have not graduated from high school and who might not have enough credit to finish school and get a diploma. You can learn more about Continuation Education here and find a list of high-quality programs in California at the bottom of this page.
- ImmSchools provides workshops for immigrant students in Texas, New York and New Jersey. If you are interested in joining a workshop or program, let us know and we can contact them to see what is available near you. They also provide college resources, student rights, mental health resources, and more here: https://www.immschools.org/resources/students-hub
If you are interested in one of these alternative options and would like to know what is available in your area, talk to your school counselor or reach out to us and we can try to help you find a program that works for you!