November 30, 2011
UNDOCUMENTED STUDENTS ATTENDING CONNECTICUT PUBLIC SCHOOLS
By: Judith Lohman, Assistant Director
You asked if the State Department of Education (SDE) collects data on the number of undocumented students (i.e., those who are in the U.S. illegally) who attend Connecticut public schools.
The state does not collect such data, according to Jessica Andrews Walsh, SDE's legislative liaison. The state has no reason to collect data on student immigration status because it does not affect the child's right to attend school in the district where the child lives.
Connecticut law requires each school district to provide schooling for any students who lives in the district and both U.S. and Connecticut Supreme Court rulings bar states and school districts from denying students access to public school on the basis of immigration status. According to Attorney Thomas B. Mooney, Connecticut “school districts will generally be responsible for children who are actually living in their district, regardless of their immigration status” (Connecticut School Law, 6th Edition, p. 266).
Connecticut law requires school boards to provide school accommodations to any child between the ages of five and 21 who has not graduated from high school, if the student is a resident of the school district over which the board has jurisdiction. If a school district denies school accommodations based on a student's residency, the student's parents are entitled to ask for a hearing before the local or regional board of education for the district, and if aggrieved by a board's decision, to appeal to the State Board of Education. In such hearings, parents bear the burden of proving that the student is a permanent resident of the school district (CGS § 10-186).
Connecticut Supreme Court
In 1890, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled on a case concerning a child living permanently with, but not formally adopted by, her aunt and uncle in Hartford while her parents lived in Illinois. The Court ruled that, if a child has established residence, in the ordinary and popular meaning of the word, in any school district, he or she has a right to attend public school there without any tuition charge. Describing the statutory duty of parents and others having control of children to send them to school, the Court stated, “nowhere is it indicated that the duty to send children to school, or the duty of the district to furnish instruction, depends on anything other than the residence of the child” (Yale v. West Middle School, 59 Conn. 489 (1890)).
U.S. Supreme Court
In 1982, the U.S. Supreme Court found that immigration status could not be used to deny schooling to illegal immigrant children. It struck down a Texas law allowing school districts to deny educational services to children of illegal foreign nationals as a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Writing for the majority, Justice Brennan stated that, although not a fundamental right under the U.S. Constitution, “education has a fundamental role in maintaining the fabric of our society. We cannot ignore the significant social costs borne by our Nation when select groups are denied the means to absorb the values and skills upon which our social order rests.” Consequently, a state that wishes to “deny a discrete group of innocent children the free public education that it offers to other children residing within its borders” must justify its action by showing that the denial “furthers some substantial state interest” (Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202, 221 (1982)).