Know Your Rights

Your Rights in the NYC Public School System

  • Your child has the right to go to school regardless of his or her immigration status, or your family’s immigration status.

  • If your child needs help learning English, you have the right to choose either a bilingual or English as a New Language (ENL) program.

  • You have the right to apply to public schools of your choice for elementary, middle, and high school.

  • You have the right to receive school-related information translated into your preferred language.

  • You have the right to be told if your child is at risk of suspension or repeating a grade.

  • Your child is entitled to receive an education without being discriminated because of his race, immigration status, country of origin, or ethnicity.

    For more information on your rights in NY Schools:  Know Your Rights: A Guide to the Legal Rights of Immigrant Families in New York City Public Schools (English).

Translation and Interpretation Services in New York City Public Schools

In New York City public schools, parents who do not speak English have a right to free translation and interpretation services in order to communicate with their children's schools and other Department of Education (DOE) offices and participate in their children’s education. Parents have the right to have their children’s school records and other important documents translated into their native language and to have interpreters available at meetings with school and DOE staff.

For more information on parents’ right to translation and interpretation in schools: Translation and Interpretation Services in New York City Public Schools.

Program Options for English Language Learners

Parents of English Language Learners (ELLs) have a right to choose one of these three programs for their children to learn English. Each program uses different methods to help children learn English. When thinking about which program will be best for your child, remember that a program that is good for one child might not be best for another child. Things like age and personality type can affect your child’s success. Also, other factors may have an effect on your child’s education such as teacher quality, school support, and how the specific classroom fits your child’s needs.

 There are three main English language learning programs in New York City’s Public Schools: English as a New Language (ENL), Transitional Bilingual Education (TBE), and Dual Language. Currently, the most common programs are ENL and transitional bilingual education, but dual language programs are becoming increasingly available.

 For more information on program options for English Language Learners:  Program Options for English Language Learners

Special Education

Many people think of special education as separate classes or separate schools, but special education is actually a continuum of specially designed instruction, including a combination of supports and services, intended to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability. These supports and services are documented in a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). Depending on the needs of the child, services may be provided in a general education setting, in a separate special education classroom, or in a combination of both settings. 

The federal law about special education is called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The IDEA guarantees a free appropriate public education (FAPE) for each student. New York State and New York City also have laws and policies about special education. A federal court case called Jose P. provides some additional rights to parents and students living in New York City.

For more information on the rights of students with disabilities: Guide to Special Education.

Bullying, Harassment, and Discrimination of Immigrant Students in NYC Schools

Your child has the right to attend a school where he/she is safe and supported and there is no bullying, harassment, or discrimination. The New York City Department of Education (DOE) does not allow bullying, harassment, and discrimination based on race, color, ethnicity, national origin, immigration status, or religion.

The behavior is not allowed when it happens on school grounds, before or after school, in DOE cars, at DOE-sponsored events, and sometimes when the behavior takes place off of school property and is related to school.  No one can be punished for reporting bullying, harassment, or discrimination of a student.

For More Information on the rights of immigrant students facing bullying or discrimination: Bullying, Harassment, and Discrimination of Immigrant Students in NYC Schools.

Other Helpful Resources   

Enrollment in New York City Public Schools for Immigrant Families

High Schools ELLs

High School Promotion and Graduation Policy in New York City Public Schools for English Language Learners


10 Tips for Parents of MLL Students

As a parent of an MLL student, these tips will help you to better understand your rights and your options to make sure both you and your child receive available support. 

  1. It is possible that the school will offer online courses to your child. If they do, you should make the completion of these online courses a priority. This will help them catch up or advance academically.

  2. If you do not speak English, you have the right to have a translator present during a parent-teacher conference. You can have a friend or neighbor present to translate during parent-teacher conferences. You can also request that the school provide a translator. It is best to have someone other than your child serve as the translator. You also have the right to have translated materials sent home.

  3. During conversations with teachers, you will learn about your child’s academic performance and behavior in class. Your child’s teacher will share their expectations for your child. Make sure that you ask how you can support their learning at home. Also share your child’s family background and other information that will help the teacher know more about his strengths and challenges.

  4. When speaking with teachers, learn about resources that the school provides to overcome academic challenges. If your child is doing well, make sure that you ask about programs for students that excel. Help the teacher to know more about your child’s academic experiences in their native country. Use the Teacher Communicator tool to improve dialogue with your child’s teacher.

  5. You should learn how the United States school system works because it might be different than in your native country. Find out about workshops, parent meetings where you can learn more.

  6. If possible, it is important to have a computer, a printer, and Internet access at home. Investing in these tools will help your child to be successful in school. But monitor your child while he is using them to ensure safe use of social media.

  7. Schools are required to help children who don’t speak English to learn English in the same way they are required to teach the same curriculum as they teach to other students.

  8. Students who are learning English might be able to take advanced courses in their native language. Ask the school what might be available.

  9. If your school does not offer many services in Spanish, find out if the school district offers more. Also ask if they have an English Language Learner or Bilingual Liaison available.

  10. If you are caring for a child that has not been in school regularly for some time, such as an unaccompanied minor or a foster child, ask their school for ways to help them beyond learning English. They may need more than one year to catch up to the other students in their grade, as well as counseling and other supports. Some younger students may benefit from repeating a grade to give them more time.


11 Questions Parents of MLL Students Should Ask

  1. What kind of services and programs does the school have to help my child learn English and all the other subjects he/she is studying?

  2. How well is my child learning English and do you have an educational plan for him/her?

  3. What activities do you use in class to encourage him to practice his English with his/her peers?

  4. Will my child’s progress reports and other communication items be available in Spanish? Will we go over his/her academic as well as social development progress during our parent-teacher conferences?

  5. How can I request special accommodations, such as extended time during high-stakes assessments, for my MLL student?

  6. How long do you think it will take my child to transition to a mainstream classroom?

  7. Will my child be on track to graduate from high school and apply to college? If not, what else does he/she need to do to graduate?

  8. How are you helping my child prepare for courses that determine if he/she will earn a high school diploma?

  9. How many exams will my child take this year and what will they be used for? How do I request copies of my child’s exam results in Spanish?

  10. How can I support my child’s learning English at home?

  11. What flexible volunteer opportunities do you have for parents to get involved in this school?