Immigrants and Foreign Students


Topics included in this letter:

  • Enrollment of immigrants and foreign students
  • Determination of English proficiency required
  • Program of services to immigrants and foreign students
  • State assessments required for immigrants and foreign students

School administrative units (SAUs) are required under federal law to enroll children regardless of citizenship or immigration status.  While the federal guidance offered here relates to immigrant students, the Department has confirmed that it applies equally to foreign students attending a Maine public school as either an exchange student or a tuitioned student.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin, among other factors, by public schools. In addition, Plyler v. Doe, the 1982 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, held that a state may not deny access to a basic public education to any child, whether that child is present in the country legally or not.

School administrative units are not to discourage the enrollment of undocumented immigrant children by asking about their immigration status, denying enrollment to those with foreign birth certificates, or denying enrollment to children whose parents decline to provide their Social Security numbers or race and ethnicity information.  Federal regulations allow schools to ask for children’s Social Security numbers to be used as student identifiers. However, they should inform parents of the purpose and that disclosure of such numbers is voluntary. Schools may not deny enrollment if parents refuse to provide a child’s Social Security number.

The federal Education and Justice Departments stress in a fact sheet and a question-and-answer document that schools may require proof that a child lives within SAU boundaries. This may include lease agreements, utility bills, or other documents, but schools may not ask parents about a child’s immigration status to establish residency.

Schools may also ask for birth certificates to establish that a child falls within minimum and maximum age requirements, but they may not bar enrollment because a child has a foreign birth certificate or no birth certificate.   (To determine age of the child, in lieu of birth certificate for proof of age go to: Resource Guide: Serving Maine’s English Learners )

Moreover, SAUs are responsible for identifying which of its students have limited English proficiency and providing them with an effective program that affords meaningful access to the SAU’s educational program (Office for Civil Rights December 1985 Title VI policy memorandum, Title VI Language Minority Compliance Procedures).  This means that the SAU is responsible for administering the home language survey to all students, assessing them on the English language proficiency assessment screener test (W-APT), and, if identified as an English learner, providing them with an effective English language acquisition program.  The SAU is required to determine the components of this program, i.e., whether it includes tutoring, additional classroom support, materials, teacher sheltering of instruction, or other strategies.

Under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), as amended, a foreign student would not be exempt from any Title 1 required assessment.  Additionally, if the student is identified as an English learner, s/he must also participate in the annual State English language proficiency (ELP) assessment the ACCESS for ELLs®.

If you have questions regarding foreign students, please contact Nancy Mullins at 624-6788 or via email at:

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