The Austin school board Monday night unanimously approved 9-0 a resolution in support of students who are unauthorized immigrants.
The resolution says all students are entitled to a public education, and that Austin schools and classrooms are welcoming, inclusive places for all students and families, “regardless of their immigration status or the status of their parents.”
The district also pledges in the resolution to create an environment “free of insecurity and fear, for all its employees, students and their families, regardless of immigration status.”
Multiple other Texas school districts, including the Houston and San Antonio districts, have passed similar resolutions.
“We are choosing as a district to be a light,” said Trustee Jayme Mathias, “to be a light and to stand on the side of our immigrant students and employees and families in proclaiming our schools to be places where we want all of our students and all of our employees and all of our families to feel safe.”
Prior to the vote, and earlier in the evening during a press conference, Superintendent Paul Cruz did not specifically mention unauthorized immigrant students or the recent immigration enforcement operation in Austin.
“I want to reiterate that our board, our staff members, our teachers, our principals, our partners are coming together to figure out the best way to support our students and our families,” Cruz said. “We all know that diversity is our strength and we take care of each other.”
Federal law requires school districts to educate students, regardless of their immigration status. But since June, when Austin valedictorian Mayte Lara received backlash for declaring in a tweet that she was ‘undocumented,’ the labor group Education Austin and others have lobbied the school board to pass a resolution declaring support for the students. More recently, on Wednesday, led by labor group Education Austin, various community leaders — including three school board members and two politicians — called on the Austin district to take a stronger stand.
On Thursday, more than 20,000 Austin district students — nearly one in four — missed school on a “Day without Immigrants.” It’s unclear how many of those students were absent because of the national movement, which encouraged supporters to stay home from work and school to demonstrate how much immigrants contribute to business and society.
In the days prior, some parents who are immigrants kept their children home from school out of fear they would be targeted by immigration enforcement officials. Others told teachers they were withdrawing their children from school.
“We recognize the fear in our communities,” said board President Kendall Pace. “We also recognize community engagement and trust building is tantamount to our collective success. We share the concerns and wanted to make a statement tonight reaffirming our commitment to our communities and our students.”
Education Austin in recent weeks stepped up outreach efforts, providing its 3,000 members with various documents, including a flier, “What to do if ICE comes to your door,” referring to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Members of the group also offered training to nearly 250 educators on immigration laws and rights, and have met with immigrants on campuses to explain their rights and how to respond if immigration enforcement officials try to question them.
Some of the group’s members then gave the information to students. But the district’s legal counsel in a memo last week cautioned Austin ISD educators about speaking about political affiliation, advocacy or other controversial issues while on district property or using district resources. Since then, legal counsel clarified that schools can still approve the use of meeting space on campuses, so long as it is approved by the principal and proper paperwork is filed with the district, and various brochures and pamphlets can be made available at schools on a bulletin board or public information table. Educators can direct students and family members to that information.
“Austin ISD is a safe place for all of our students,” Cruz said. “We are here to educate all of our kids. Our teachers want to see our students every single day. We want to make sure we’re taking care of them.”
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