Eagle County schools ignore students’ status | VailDaily.com

Eagle County schools ignore students’ status

Matt Terrell
Vail, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” School leaders can tell you how many students can’t speak English in Eagle County, but what they don’t know is how many of those students are here illegally.

A student’s legal status is not something schools are allowed to ask when they’re registering for classes, said to Dick Lyons, an attorney for the Eagle County School District.

A 1982 Supreme Court decision, Plyler v. Doe, ruled that undocumented children and young adults have the same right to attend public, kindergarten through 12th grade schools as United States citizens.

Therefore, schools aren’t allowed to deny any child an education because they’re in the country illegally, and schools aren’t even allowed to ask.

“Our job is to educate whoever is in front of us. We can’t differentiate.” superintendent John Pacheco said.

So, does not knowing a student’s legal status make a difference to schools? This does make it impossible for the school district to quantify the impact of illegal immigration and know specifically how much money and resources are being spent on those students.

But if asking a student’s legal status were allowed, it’s not something the school district would be interested in doing, Pacheco said. It’s really not helpful information, he said.

What’s more important for the school district to track are specific things that effect students in classrooms, like the number of students who can’t speak English or who are living in poverty.

More than 1,800 students in the district had limited or no proficiency in English this past school year, and more than 1,500 were considered “at risk,” meaning they receive free or reduced lunch.

“Our impact is from those who don’t speak English ” it takes more teachers and resources to get those kids to the level where we need to have them, whether they’re legal or not,” Pacheco said.

Educators do acknowledge though that illegal immigration has had a significant impact on the schools, even if they don’t know the numbers. Many of the students who are here illegally are some of the many students who struggle with English or are living below the poverty line.

Knowing a student’s legal status would put schools in the undesirable position of tracking and enforcing immigration laws, which was a problem before the Supreme Court ruling, Pacheco said.

“There was some pressure being placed on K through 12 schools to do that, to track and identify students, and there’s a desire from a lot of people for us to do that,” Pacheco said. “But, it’s not our job, and that’s why the ruling is a good thing. We should be focused on educating students, not becoming the police for that.”

To read the 1982 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Plyler versus Doe, which determined that schools cannot deny education to students based on their legal status, visit

http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0457_0202_ZS.html. There, you can read a summary of the case and the court’s opinion.

Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 970-748-2955 or mterrell@vaildaily.com.

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