Milford considers policy for protecting undocumented students

MILFORD — A policy seeking to protect undocumented students came before Milford’s school board with the goal to establish a protocol if an immigration officer were to come to a school.

“I think about my own experience when I was growing up. I had that mental kind of burden that, maybe when I came home, my parents would not be there. I can’t imagine what other students are feeling to this day. If I can do anything to help them in my position, then I will do so,” said board member Rony Baltazar-Lopez when he brought forth the idea of a policy in November.

Mr. Baltazar-Lopez, citing a Pew Research report, noted that about 725,000 K-12 students were undocumented in 2014, and that number is rising.

“Within the statistics, there are undocumented students within our school system,” he said.

After the initial discussion in November, the district brought a proposed policy before the board late January. The policy was a first reading, meaning that the board has not yet voted to adopt it. If adopted in a subsequent meeting, it would act as a subset under another policy that addresses student privacy that the board also reviewed in January in a first reading.

The proposed policy states that should an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent — including any other federal, state or local officer acting to enforce immigration laws — enter a school to ask about a student’s immigration status or records, that officer will be referred to the superintendent, or a designee.

The policy goes on to state that, should that occur, staff will protect students’ private information, in accordance with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

Further, the policy notes that the superintendent, or designee, will not allow ICE or other immigration officials entry without a valid court order, subpoena or other appropriate written authority. That documentation would be reviewed by the superintendent or designee.

The policy would extend to school buses, Superintendent Kevin Dickerson said.

When first discussed, the idea was met with some hesitation from other board members, who cited concerns that this would be too narrowly focused.

“I do worry about making board policy that’s specific to a certain subset of students instead of students as a whole,” board member Jason Miller said, noting that he would like for the district to consider its FERPA procedure, which covers all students. “Then, if we feel that is inadequate or we don’t have a policy to cover that, then we maybe look deeper into that. But I think first we should cover all students and then look to go deeper.”

Mr. Baltazar-Lopez cited policies passed by Christina and Red Clay school boards that addressed undocumented students.

Kristopher Thompson, school board member, noted that in Christina’s policy, it states that in the event of a threat, “the office of the Superintendent is charged with providing an expeditious response.”

“If it is something that’s an imminent threat, there shouldn’t need to be channels that have to be checked and people contacted,” he said in November. “I know what you’re looking at. You’re looking at trying to protect undocumented person. We have to look at protecting every kid in there. … If a law enforcement agent is coming to school to investigate an incident and that person is the threat, and is not just fearful because of their illegal status, but that person is a threat for another crime, and you delay that action or that investigation, I think that could be a problem.”

Dr. Dickerson said that the district lacked any policy that specified FERPA procedure, which he also brought before the board in January.

“We’ve had different things that have referenced FERPA, but not to this extent,” he said. “This is a brand new policy, much more extensive than we’ve ever had that covers a lot of different requests we ever have for student information.”

Dr. Dickerson noted that the district decided to pull the section pertaining to immigration officials into a subset so that it would be easier for staff to find if they needed to respond, rather than embedding it into the FERPA policy. He noted that the subset adds more specificity beyond the primary policy.

If adopted, the policies would be translated into Spanish and Creole, Dr. Dickerson said.

He added that as the board updates its various policies in the future, the district plans to translate those documents, too.