- Primary and Secondary Education
- Special Education
- Bilingual Education
- Higher Education
All children in the U.S have the right to attend public school, from kindergarten through 12th grade. This includes children who are "undocumented," with no legal immigration status. The only exception is children who are in the U.S. on F-1 visas. These students are allowed into the U.S. just to study. They are supposed to pay tuition if they attend public school. If they can't afford the tuition, they can still attend for free, but their visa will no longer be valid. They may suffer other penalties under the immigration laws (including being deported), as a result.
To attend a public school a child must:
- have a birth certificate or other proof of her age
- be living with an adult who is a resident of the town where the school is located. Normally, the adult must be the legal guardian of the child, or must have filed paperwork with the probate court to become the child's legal guardian. However, federal laws support children being in school. If you know of a child who is told that she can’t be in school because of this rule, contact KIDS LEGAL or the Maine Department of Education. See Resources below.
Schools may also require a child to have certain vaccinations before going to school.
All children between the ages of 6 and 16 must attend school.
Children have the right to attend school free from discrimination. No child should be discriminated against because of his:
- national origin
- sexual orientation
Discrimination can take many forms, such as:
- harassment by students, teachers, or administrators
- different discipline or grading based on any of the traits mentioned above
- refusal to provide building access to a disabled student
- refusal to provide necessary learning supports needed
If you feel your child has suffered discrimination, report it to your school's principal. If you cannot resolve the problem there, contact the school superintendent. If you are still not satisfied, contact the Maine Human Rights Commission. See Resources below.
If a child has special learning needs or disabilities, the public school must offer services that meet the child's needs. Schools must offer these special services to all qualifying students aged 3-20. They cannot charge the parents for these services. The services must be "appropriate" to the child's needs. With the parents' input, the school must write for each child an Individualized Education Program (IEP).
A student must get special services in "the least restrictive environment." This means that the school must offer the most normal setting possible while providing the needed services. Often students can stay in most of their regular classes with their own age group.
Special education may also include:
- physical education
- home instruction
- vocational education
- instruction in settings like hospitals or residences
Students can get the related services they need, like transportation, speech lessons and counseling. They have the right to participate in after-school activities—like art club and sports.
Private schools are not required to offer special education services. However, they may not discriminate against students because of disability.
Non-English speaking students have the right to get a meaningful public school education. This means that public schools must provide bilingual education or an "English as a Second Language" (ESL) program. Schools must offer this to all students who qualify as "limited English proficient" (LEP). A Maine public school must have an ESL program even if it has only one LEP student. ESL programs must include English language skills and content area academic skills.
Schools must have a "Lau plan" that fairly:
- identifies students as LEP
- assesses students for proficiency level
- provides language support services
- reclassifies students when they are ready for an all-English curriculum
- evaluates individual students and the program as a whole
Limited English proficiency (LEP) is not a handicapping condition. Therefore, an LEP student should not be placed in special education classes unless he also has a learning disability.
If your child does not speak English, or speaks limited English, and you feel that the school is not providing adequate LEP services, contact the Maine Department of Education. See Resources below.
After completing high school non-citizens may have problems getting into a U.S. university or college. Many schools will require a student to have a "green card" or "refugee" or "asylee" status. (See "Green Cards" and Other Immigration Documents) Even if the U.S. university or college does not require a person to have a certain type of immigration status to attend, the intending student may not be able to get in-state tuition rates, or qualify for student loans from the government, unless he is a permanent resident, refugee, or asylee. But every school is different. If you are thinking about going to college, speak to an immigration lawyer to find out the current laws. You can also speak with a college's financial aid office, to ask if they have any private scholarships available.
People who are outside the U.S., or who are in the U.S. with temporary visasa, such as a visitor's visa, may be able apply for student visas. Student visas are for non-citizens who are keeping their permanent residence in their home country but who want to study at a U.S. college, university, vocational school or language training program. First, a foreign student must apply to and be accepted by a higher education institution within the U.S. The student will also have to prove to the school that she is able to pay the tuition (usually at the most expensive rate the university or college charges). Then the school will send her a form that can be provided to the U.S. consulate in her home country, or to Immigration (if she is already here in the U.S. and her visa has not expired and she has not worked in the U.S. without permission), to apply for one of three types of visas:
- F-1, for students in a full-time academic or language program
- M-1, for students in a full-time vocational school
- J-1, for full-time exchange students
Students who have been living in the U.S. for any period of time without any legal immigration status usually cannot get a student visa.
Once you are a student is in the U.S., you must follow employment rules. This applies to both student visa holders and children of undocumented workers. If you violate the employment rules, your student visa will automatically terminate. You should talk to an experienced immigration lawyer before accepting any work offer. This includes a job for pay or in exchange for room and board.
Maine Department of Education
23 State House Station
Augusta, ME 04333
Maine Human Rights Commission
51 State House Station
Augusta, Maine 04333-0051
(207) 624 –6050
P.O. Box 547
Portland ME 04112
Phone: (207) 774-8246 | Toll Free: 1-866-624-7787
Bangor Office: 61 Main St., Rm. 41, Bangor ME 04401
Immigration Legal Aid in Maine
Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project
309 Cumberland Avenue, Suite 201
P.O. Box 17917 Portland, Maine 04112
207-780-1593 or 1-800-497-8505
Services are free or low-fee depending on income
Private Immigration Lawyers: See the "Immigration Law" listing under "Lawyers" in the Yellow Pages of the phone book.
Updated January 2009