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Healey advises schools to educate students regardless of immigration status

Attorney General Maura Healey’s advisory came as several school departments have sought to reassure their communities that protections remain in place for immigrant and transgender students.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/File 2017

Attorney General Maura Healey issued an advisory Thursday, reminding school districts statewide that children have a right to primary and secondary education regardless of immigration status.

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education plans to distribute the three-page advisory this week to the more than 500 school districts, charter schools, and education collaboratives in the state, Healey’s office said.

Healey’s advisory comes as several school departments, alarmed by President Trump’s hostile stances, have sought to reassure their communities that protections remain in place for immigrant and transgender students in Massachusetts. Officials from at least eight cities and towns — as well as the state’s Education Department — have sent letters home to parents or posted statements after Trump moved to restrict immigration and limit protections for transgender students.


“In light of the current climate around matters of immigration, parents should not be afraid to send their children to school,” said Healey, a Democrat who has spoken out forcefully against the policies and orders of Trump’s nascent administration, in a statement. “In Massachusetts and across this country, we open our schools to all children because that is how we build a productive, educated, and safe society.”

The advisory said state and federal laws guarantee every child “equal access to public education — irrespective of race, color, sex, gender identity, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or immigration status.” Children are protected under the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 and by state laws that prohibit bullying and discrimination, according to the advisory, which also points to a 1982 Supreme Court ruling that says states cannot constitutionally deny students a free public education on account of immigration status.

This case “made clear that a child’s immigration or citizenship status (or that of his or her parent or guardian) is not relevant to the child’s right to a public education,” said the advisory. “Enrollment practices that single out students based on their actual or perceived citizenship or immigration status violate state and federal law.”


This is not the first time state education officials have pushed back against the White House.

Last week, Trump’s administration ordered schools nationwide to disregard guidance from the previous administration regarding the rights of transgender students. The next day, Mitchell Chester, Massachusetts’ commissioner of elementary and secondary education, wrote a letter to state school officials.

In it, Chester said, he “would like to affirm for you that Massachusetts remains dedicated to protecting the rights of transgender students even in light of recent federal actions.”

On Thursday, Chester reiterated the state’s commitment to all students, saying in a statement: “Educating and supporting all students strengthens our communities and our Commonwealth as a whole.”

The advisory provides three bullet points for what school leaders statewide must do: 1) allow all students to attend; 2) avoid asking for information that might discourage or deny access based on race, national origin, or immigration or citizenship status; and 3) protect all students from bullying and harassment.

Akilah Johnson can be reached at akilah.johnson@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @akjohnson1922.