February 23, 2017

Indianapolis Public Schools Vow To Protect Undocumented Students

Article origination IPBS-RJC
Indianapolis Public Schools parent Keila Vargas urges the school board to approve a resolution supporting immigrant and undocumented students and their families on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017.  - Eric Weddle/WFYI Public Media

Indianapolis Public Schools parent Keila Vargas urges the school board to approve a resolution supporting immigrant and undocumented students and their families on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017.

Eric Weddle/WFYI Public Media

The Indianapolis Public Schools Board approved a resolution Thursday pledging to protect undocumented and immigrant students from facing deportation and discrimination. 

It informs principals to not assist immigration enforcement officers unless legally required or authorized by the district.

The statement comes in response to President Donald Trump’s pledge to increase deportation of immigrants living in the country illegally.

Kelia Vargas, an IPS parent, spoke to the board in Spanish. She said the change in political climate since Trump’s November election has impeded student’s learning and dreams of their future.

“With the immigration news, many children are living in fear,” she said, according to an English translation. “They care about the well-bing of their parents. There is a paralyzing fear in our community. Parents are afraid to go to work and send their children to school.”

IPS does not collect data on how many students are immigrants or undocumented though 4,400 students are classified as needing additional support to learn the English language.

It will remain to be seen how the district would react to information requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Indiana law prohibits governmental bodies, like a school district, from prohibiting staff communication with ICE or other federal officers about a person’s immigration status.

Yet, federal laws, such as FERPA, already prevent school staff from releasing citizenship status and other information about students.

ICE has sated they will not enforce immigration policy around schools.

Jessica Feeser, district ESL coordinator, is organizing meetings for families to understand their legal rights in face of deportation. A meeting has already been held for 60 families with an immigration attorney. More meetings are being planned.

“It’s very important for us as the ESL department to support this,” she said.

Staff are being trained how to discuss deportation with students and how to aid students if one or more members of their family are deported, Feeser said.

The board approved the resolution unanimously. In pledging support for it, commissioner Diane Arnold described Indianapolis and the country as falling into a “very sad time.”

“It’s a sad thing that we’ve invested so much time, energy and effort in educating some of these children in their entire education journey, and now that could be in jeopardy for them,” she said.

The resolution calls for IPS employees to:

  • Be a safe and welcoming place for all students and families regardless of their immigration status
  • Strictly enforce policies against intimidation, bullying, or discrimination of any student, including those born outside of the United States or for whom English is a second language.
  • Continue to seek opportunities to increase and enhance programs and partnerships that support and assist immigrant students and families.
  • Follow the policy and practice of not requiring social security numbers for any enrolled or enrolling student and will continue to refrain from inquiring about a student’s or parent’s immigration status
  • Not collect or provide any information regarding a student’s immigration status, except as legally required.
  • Board supports U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement policy that restricts enforcement actions by ICE officers and agents in or around schools, and reminds IPS employees that they shall not assist immigration enforcement efforts unless legally required and authorized to do so by the superintendent.

IPS officials say they’ve not aware of immigration agents contacting principals.

Contact WFYI education reporter Eric Weddle at eweddle@wfyi.org or call (317) 614-0470. Follow on Twitter: @ericweddle.

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