Your Rights as the Parent of a Public School Student

The law in the United States requires public schools to educate all students, no matter what their immigration status. Starting at age 5 or 6, children are legally required to attend school.


  • When you wish to talk to someone at the school, you can ask the school to provide an interpreter. Some schools have parent liaisons who can do this. You can also bring in a friend to translate for you.
  • Schools must try, as often as possible, to translate information they send home into the family's primary language.

Immigration status

  • The people who work at the school are not allowed to ask parents to show an ID or to give a social security number. You don't have to answer questions about your immigration status or your child's.
  • Most public schools offer free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch for students who need them. You'll need to fill out a federal form, but the form will not be seen by the immigration service. The form will ask you to list the members of your household, dates of birth, relationships, and household income. You do not need a social security number.

English language programs

  • Schools must provide instruction to children who need help learning English. The type of program will depend on the school. It could be an English only program, mostly Spanish with some English, mostly English with some Spanish, or half English and half Spanish. Students must be taught to read, write, speak, and understand English.
  • Parents must be notified within one month after school begins — ideally in the language the parent understands best — if their child has been recommended for placement in an English language program. Parents must be told:
    • why their child has been identified for the program
    • the child's level of English proficiency
    • the recommendations for the child
    • the expectations of the program
    • the anticipated date the child will leave the program

    If the child enters the school after the beginning of the year, the school has two weeks to provide this notification. (These regulations might vary from state to state, so it is important to get a copy in writing about these policies from the school.)

  • No matter what program they are in, after three years, students must be tested in English to determine their proficiency level.
  • If you're concerned about the language your child is being instructed in, contact your child's teacher. The school must provide parents with help in choosing another program for their child.

Special school programs

  • Some public schools have special classes for students who are "gifted" in academics, music, or other areas. Schools that have such programs must assess all children, including those who are limited English speakers, to see who qualifies for the programs.
  • Special programs for children with physical, mental, emotional, and learning disabilities are available to all public school students.
  • In some districts, parents have the right to request that their child be placed in a different school, as long as there is space available there.
  • Schools that are not making "adequate yearly progress" for two years are required to pay the transportation fees for a child to attend another school within the district at the parent's request.


Adapted from the following sources: Multicultural Education, Training, and Advocacy (META); Latino Learning Links, Fall 2002, National Council of La Raza; and from the National Coalition of Advocates for Students.


You are welcome to print copies or republish materials for non-commercial use as long as credit is given to Colorín Colorado and the author(s). For commercial use, please contact [email protected].

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