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A Foundation Magazine Looks Back 25 Years to Plyler v. Doe

By Mary Ann Zehr — May 07, 2007 1 min read

I found it refreshing to read in the Carnegie Reporter, a magazine of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, an article about educating immigrant students that didn’t mention the No Child Left Behind Act.

The article makes a case for why it still makes sense to provide a free K-12 education for undocumented immigrant students. It relays the context in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1982 in Plyler v. Doe that schools were obliged to educate such students. Not doing so, the court said, would promote “the creation and perpetuation of a subclass of illiterates within our boundaries, surely adding to the problems and costs of unemployment, welfare, and crime.” The article also says that some Americans are now questioning whether the court made the right decision.

What I found particularly interesting is an update about what happened to four children from a Mexican family with the surname Lopez who were plaintiffs. During the time of the court case, they were living in the country illegally, and the Tyler Independent School District in Texas wanted to charge their parents $1,000 annually per child to attend school. U.S. District Court Judge William Wayne Justice ruled that the children should be provided with an education. A federal appeals court and the U.S. Supreme Court upheld his decision.

Two of the four Lopez children who were part of the case now are citizens, and the other two have green cards, according to the article. Three of these four children talked to the Carnegie Reporter. They all graduated from high school and say their education gave them the tools to do well in the U.S. workplace. They now have families of their own and own their own homes. One is a shipping foreman at a grocery store, another works at a bank, and a third worked as a customer-service representative but is currently a stay-at-home mom.

After hearing about Plyer v. Doe for all these years, it’s neat to know more about the people behind the court case.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.