Immigrant student rights in school

Also in
Show Endnotes
Massachusetts Advocates for Children

In Massachusetts, most people age 21 and younger have the right to go to public elementary, middle, and high school. This includes immigrants, new arrivals, and undocumented students.

You must attend school if you are under 16 years old in Massachusetts. If you are over 16 years, there are different rules about student enrollment depending on the town. In most cases you have the right to enroll in school until you are 22 years old or have a high school diploma.

See Immigrant Rights in College and Higher Education for information about immigrant student rights after high school.

What do I need to enroll in school?

Different towns have different rules about what you need to bring to the enrollment office. Most towns require proof that you live in the town, like a bill with your address on it. Most towns also ask for identification, such as a birth certificate. Many towns ask you to be with a parent or legal guardian when you enroll in school.

Can a school ask me about my immigration status?

No. Schools cannot ask for a child’s or parent’s immigration status. It is illegal for schools to have different rules for parents and children because of the country you come from.

What if I do not have the paperwork required by a town to enroll in school?

If you do not have one of the items required by a town to enroll, you still have a right to attend school.

  • If you cannot prove your address, you should ask to speak to the Homeless Liaison at the enrollment center, even if you are not homeless. Read more about your rights at the Children’s Law Center’s website. The state Department of Education also has regional coordinators who can answer questions and communicate with the school if the local Homeless Liaison is not helpful.
  • If you don’t have a birth certificate, schools should accept other documents to verify your age, like a baptismal certificate, an affidavit from a parent, or records from your old school. 
  • Schools are not allowed to stop you from going to school if you do not have a social security number or you do not want to give them your social security number.
  • After going to the enrollment center, if you are still having trouble enrolling in school, you should ask for the help of a lawyer or social worker. The free Helpline at Mass Advocates for Children or Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts are good places to start.
What rights do I have in school if I have a disability?

If you have a disability and need special services or accommodations, the school is required by law to provide them for you even if you are an immigrant or undocumented student. If you speak a language other than English, that is not a disability. 

The first step to see if you have a disability that affects your learning is for the school to do an evaluation. An evaluation is testing that a specialist does to understand how you learn and if you need special services or accommodations. If your primary language is not English, the school must do the evaluation in your language. An evaluation should include recommendations for your learning.

You can request an evaluation and the school must respond. Even if you make the request, the school will need you or your parent to sign a consent form before they can start the evaluation. Learn more at Immigrant and Latinx Families — Massachusetts Advocates for Children.

If you cannot read or you are blind or Deaf, the school must give you all the information you need in a way you understand. Tell the school the best way to contact you — phone calls, texts, or emails.

What rights do I have if I do not speak English?

You have a right to attend school and learn English. While you are learning English, you have a right to learn in all of the areas (math, reading, writing, science, etc.) that students in your grade who speak English are learning. 

The school is required to give you a test to see how much English you know. This is required even if you have a disability. If the test shows you need more support to learn English, the school will offer you support for students who are learning English. You have a right to reject the special support.

What rights do my parents have if they do not speak English?

If your parent, guardian, or caregiver speaks another language at home, the school is required to use that language to communicate with your parents, guardian, or caregiver in letters or over the phone. The school must provide an interpreter at all meetings. You should never be asked by the school to interpret between your parents and the school.

The school must communicate with you and your parents in the language you speak at home. The school should give you all written documents in English and in the language you speak at home. All types of communication must also be provided in the language you speak at home. This includes:

  • every letter,
  • school notice,
  • phone call,
  • meeting, and
  • conversation.

The school must use an interpreter if needed. The interpreter should:

  • be fluent in English and in the language you speak at home, and 
  • have training in the role of an interpreter, education terms, and confidentiality.


Download flyers by Massachusetts Advocates for Children, "Your and Your Child's Education Rights in the U.S."

Resource Boxes
More Resources
Learn more
School_Immigrant Education Rights - For school staff

Fact Sheets - Equal Educational Opportunities for English Learners (Multilingual, PDFs)
U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights

Advisory Regarding Equal Access to Public Education for All Students Irrespective of Immigration Status
Massachusetts Attorney General's Office

Welcoming Newcomer and Refugee Students & Families (2022)
Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) English Learner Education


Was this page helpful?