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Helping parents without immigration status get their children into school

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Helping parents without immigration status get their children into schoolThis information is for community advocates. It explains the law and suggests ways to help parents without status get their children registered at school.

In Ontario, children have the right to attend school even if they or their parents do not have immigration status in Canada.

But students and parents may not know about this right. They may also be afraid to go to a school to register.

What the law says

Children must attend school

In Ontario, the Education Act says that children must attend school. The only way that a child can be excused from attending school is for one of the reasons set out in the Act, for example, because they are sick.

A child who is 6 years old before the first day of school in September must go to school. Most children start school earlier by attending a kindergarten program when they are 4 or 5 years old.

Schools cannot refuse to admit children

It is against the law for a school to refuse to admit a child who is under 18 years of age only because the child or the child’s parent or guardian is in Canada without immigration status.

The Education Act says:

A person who is otherwise entitled to be admitted to a school and who is less than eighteen years of age shall not be refused admission because the person or the person’s parent or guardian is unlawfully in Canada. (Section 49.1)

The Ministry of Education has told school boards across the province that they cannot refuse to admit children only because their parents do not have immigration papers.

Schools should not refuse to admit children only because their parents do not have:

  • proof of immigration status or proof that they have applied for status
  • a work permit or social insurance number
  • Ontario Health Insurance Program (OHIP) coverage.

There are more details about this on the Ministry of Education website in Policy/Program Memorandum No. 136 at

What the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act says

In Canada, the provinces have the power to make laws about education. But the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act also confirms children's right to go to school:

Every minor child in Canada, other than a child of a temporary resident not authorized to work or study, is authorized to study at the pre-school, primary or secondary level. (Subsection 30 (2))

This makes it clear that, for example, a child under 18 years of age who is claiming refugee status in Canada, or who has no status in Canada, does not need a study permit from Citizenship and Immigration Canada to go to school.

Canada's international commitment to education rights

Canada has signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which means that Canada has agreed to make primary and secondary education available to all children in Canada.

How you can help parents get their children into school

Students and parents may not know about their rights. They may also be afraid to go to their local school to register. As a community advocate, there are many ways you can help:

  • find out what school boards in your community are doing to welcome all children to their schools
  • tell people without status about children’s right to education
  • help children in non-status situations register for school
  • put up posters where newcomers gather and include local contact information about where they can get help registering children in school
  • coordinate with other agencies in your community that work with people who do not have status, for example, by sharing information about efforts to register children in local schools.

What will work best may be different across the province. Sometimes, it might help to make a phone call to a school on behalf of a parent. Other times, parents will need to have an advocate who understands the law go with them when they are registering their child.

Creating a poster

If you think it would be helpful, put posters in places where parents will see them. Here are some ideas about what information to include.

Your child has a right to go to school

You do not have to be a Canadian citizen or permanent resident.

If you need information or help to get your child registered at school, contact [insert name of your agency and contact information]

If possible, you may want to translate your poster into the languages that parents in your community will find easiest to understand.

Where to get legal help

If you know a child who has already tried but not been able to get into school, you might want to contact a lawyer or a community legal clinic.

You can find the community legal clinic nearest you by visiting the Legal Aid Ontario website at

Or, you can call Legal Aid Ontario at 1-800-668-8258 or 416-979-1446.

Justice for Children and Youth is a specialty legal clinic that deals with legal issues that affect children and young people under the age of 18. There is more information on their website at or you can call them at 1-866-999-5329 or 416-920-1633.

Where to get more information and help

The Right to Learn: Access to Public Education for Non-Status Immigrants, Social Planning Toronto, 2008

Policy without Practice: Barriers to Enrollment for Non-Status Immigrant Students in Toronto’s Catholic Schools, Social Planning Toronto, 2010

These reports make recommendations aimed at removing barriers to enrolment of children in Ontario schools.

No one is illegal
Education Not Deportation (END) is a campaign to raise awareness and organize around issues of migrant justice with schools and educators. It is also a coalition of members who want all students regardless of immigration status to be able to access education.

How to find a school board

Some examples of school board policies
Toronto District School Board (TDSB) policy on students without legal immigration status.
TDSB Operational Procedure: Admission Eligibility Requirements.
Toronto Catholic District School Board information about admission of students without status.

Education Act

Policy/Program Memorandum No. 136 to the Education Act

CLEO French resource
Le droit à l'éducation : un droit légalement reconnu à chaque enfant
This CLEO online publication in French includes excerpts from Ontario's Education Act and other relevant sources. It provides information about a child's right to attend school despite lack of immigration status.

Do I have the right to attend school: Students and Parents legal guide on the Right to Attend School in Ontario, Justice for Children and Youth, June 2012

Education resources from Settlement.Org

Settlement Workers in Schools
The Settlement Workers in Schools (SWIS) program places settlement workers from community agencies in elementary and secondary schools that have high numbers of newcomer students. The SWIS workers help parents and young people with settlement needs.

This web page gives general legal information, not legal advice. If you have a legal problem, contact a community legal clinic or a lawyer.