Schools Grapple with Educational Rights of Undocumented Population

Research on immigration enforcement incident leads to recommendation for policy training

It is estimated that in U.S. public K-12 schools, one million children do not have legal immigration status, and another 4.5 million children have at least one undocumented parent.

Emily Crawford-Rossi

New research from the MU College of Education’s Emily Crawford-Rossi, an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Leadership & Policy Analysis, recommends that school leaders know their legal and ethical responsibilities when it comes to undocumented students. The study uses a case study approach, and recommends that school districts develop policies and resources to train personnel and protect the educational rights of undocumented students.

Crawford-Rossi utilizes data from a 2008 event to show how rumors of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) coming near an elementary school triggered fear and disruption throughout a school community. Through interviews with school leaders, employees, and local community members, Crawford-Rossi found that the school’s leadership took an approach that minimized the uncertainty for students and parents. They did so by listening to students’ fears, supporting a workshop on undocumented immigrants’ legal rights, and by clarifying for community members in Spanish and English that immigration did not come onto school property.

“As a leader, the principal demonstrated listening without judgment to community fears,” Crawford-Rossi writes. “She skillfully negotiated balancing her leadership role and the trust the community placed in her. She worked to prevent further marginalizing undocumented families while continuing to build their trust in her leadership.”

Emily Crawford Rossi Research Schools grapple with educational rights of undocumented population
Research on immigration enforcement incident leads to recommendation for policy training

Immigration and undocumented students’ educational access is a topic of global significance, Crawford-Rossi said as nations and schools rapidly diversify. Educators in the U.S. may not know undocumented children have a legal right to a free, public K-12 education, or whether they can ask families questions about legal status.

School leaders have an impetus to help all students in their community feel safe while at school. “It could be argued that undocumented students are treated as legitimate within school walls and illegitimate once off school premises,” Crawford-Rossi writes. “Broader national, social, and legal practices shape the lives of all community members, and schools need to know what their responsibilities are from a legal, policy, and ethical standpoint.”

Crawford-Rossi’s article, “The Ethic of Community and Incorporating Immigrant Concerns Into Ethical School Leadership,” appears online in the journal Educational Administration Quarterly.