by Félix Pérez
The Los Angeles school board, which sets policy for the nation’s second largest school district, made news recently when it voted to affirm the rights of all its students to a high-quality education regardless of their citizenship. In the past weeks, a growing number of districts and cities have taken similar action, prompted by growing fear among immigrant students that they or their families might be deported by the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump.
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Among the school districts and cities that have taken action so far are Arvin, CA, Chicago, Denver, Santa Fe, NM, Portland, OR, and Seattle.
While the U.S. Supreme Court, in Plyler v. Doe, ruled that public school districts have an obligation to enroll students regardless of immigration status or on the basis of race, color, or national origin, the presidential election has set off a firestorm of anxiety in schools and communities with immigrants. Trump has promised to deport millions of immigrants and pledged to repeal the executive order by President Barack Obama that gives temporary protected status to young undocumented immigrants brought here as children. In response, districts are being increasingly vocal about protecting the rights of students.
Passed unanimously, the Los Angeles school board resolution directs school staff not to let federal immigration agents enter school campuses or to provide them with student data without clearance. “In Los Angeles, students and families will continue to be welcomed regardless of citizenship, abilities, or sexual orientation on their path to becoming proud college and career ready LAUSD (Los Angeles Unified School District) graduates,” said board member Mónica García. The city has 655,000 students.
In Chicago, home to the third largest school district, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, joined by U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, sought to reassure students. “If you want to participate in our after-school programs and you are undocumented, you can and you do. If you want to participate in our summer jobs program and you are undocumented, you can and you do. . . And if you get a ‘B’ average, community college is free and it’s open to undocumented students.”
Like the Los Angeles school board, the Portland Public School Board unanimously passed a resolution that clarified the District’s procedures relating to federal immigration activity in schools.
Said PPS Board Director Julie Esparza Brown.
In the wake of the Presidential election and the heated rhetoric surrounding it, there has been a great deal of worry and concern about family stability and safety throughout our community. We are taking this action today to send a message to all PPS families that regardless of their background or status, this District will do everything it can to protect all kids and their families in our schools.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a plan that includes expanding New York’s human rights law to all students. Under current law, only private school students are protected. Cuomo said, “New York is, and will always be, a place of acceptance, inclusion and a bastion of hope for all people. We will never allow fear and intolerance to tear at the fabric of who we are – New Yorkers are stronger than that, and we are better than that.”
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray signed an executive order stating in part that the city will set aside $250,000 to address the needs of unauthorized immigrant students enrolled in Seattle public schools and their families. The order reaffirmed that city employees will not ask about the status of residents and all city services will be available to all residents.
Santa Fe, NM, Superintendent Veronica Garcia sent a letter to parents assuring them of the district’s commitment to immigrants. In the letter, Garcia pointed out the district has established a helpline for students or parents to report incidences of bullying, harassment or events they believe may cause a disruption to the learning process. The letter states that students who graduate from an accredited New Mexico high school or earn a GED are eligible for in-state tuition and the NM Lottery Scholarship regardless of immigration status, that the district does not and will not collect information regarding students immigration status, nor will it allow unlawful access to students in its schools, and it will explore providing an immigrant student support ombudsman for the district.
- The Denver school board unanimously passed a resolution affirming the school district’s goal to “act quickly to prevent and address any and all issues of discrimination and harassment in our schools. We recognize that national events and the current political climate have caused uncertainty and anxiety for many in our communities.”
- The Arvin Union School District, in California, passed a resolution that states “no school district staff shall take any steps that would deny access to students to education based on heir immigration status” nor inquire about a student’s immigration status. Further, federal immigration agents are not allowed on a school site nor are student data released without review by the superintendent and the district’s attorney.