District leaders spent this week planning how to respond to immigrant families’ concerns over the end of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, while some saw students taking their frustrations over President Donald Trump’s decision to the streets.
More than 1,100 students in the Denver Public Schools, for example, were given unexcused absences after they participated in a peaceful walkout Tuesday that culminated at the downtown Auraria Campus, a higher education center. Will Jones, spokesman for the district, said officials began hearing late last week about students’ plans to participate in the demonstration, which included speeches, chants and signs.
“Our district and school leaders worked with students to provide activities that allow their voices to be heard on campus,” Jones said, but added that when students decided to walk out anyway, “school and district employees accompanied students while they were off campus” to make sure they were safe.
In the Phoenix Union High School District (PUHSD), a few hundred students from two high schools walked out of school to protest the decision. “We plead … with parents, students and outside organizations to not walk during school,” said spokesman Craig Pletenik. “It sends the wrong message, but we can't lock the gates on hundreds of students, either.”
Districts increasing social-emotional support
Many district officials also issued statements expressing how they will partner with local organizations over the next few months to help answer families’ questions, while also reiterating that they won’t ask about students’ immigration status when they enroll or give Immigrant and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents access to schools.
“We will be working with community organizations to provide the most accurate and timely information about rights and options for students and families impacted by this change in policy,” PUHSD Superintendent Chad E. Geston said in a letter on the district’s website, adding that the district will schedule evening informational meetings in the next several weeks. “Our schools are very sensitive to this situation. We have mobilized our crisis management teams to provide counseling for the social and emotional needs of those affected.”
In the San Diego Unified School District, Board President Richard Barrera estimates that across San Diego County, there are roughly 40,000 people who potentially would have been eligible for DACA. He said teachers and counselors began responding to students’ feelings of anxiety last year after Trump was elected and that the district has worked with outside organizations to hold know-your-rights workshops. High school students attended some of the sessions and then took the information back home to parents who were concerned about the possibility of ICE officials coming to those meetings.
He adds the district is seeing more families leave the district instead of waiting to be deported. “We’ve seen a large number of families, in anticipation of being deported to move to Mexico,” he said.
The district worked with the Consulate General of Mexico to develop a relationship with the Department of Education of Baja California so educators could collaborate and create some common practices that would help to smooth the transition for students.
The phase-out process
DACA began in 2012 when the Obama administration said it would “defer” steps to deport young immigrants — ages 15 to 30 — if they were brought to the U.S. as children by their parents. Those who applied for the program paid a $465 fee, which gave them temporary relief from deportation and a two-year work permit. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the vast majority of roughly 800,000 DACA requests since the program began have been approved.
As DACA is phased out, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will still review initial applications that were submitted before Sept. 5, but automatically deny any future requests and Employment Authorization Documents. The department will still consider renewal requests and work permit applications from those whose benefits are set to expire on March 5 — the six-month delay that the president said he would allow. In addition, if a pending application is approved by Oct. 5, officials will also consider granting the work permit.
While much of the attention to DACA has focused on K-12 and college students, many who have been protected by the program work as teachers and other school personnel. Teach for America, for example, has actively recruited DACA candidates as a way to diversify the teaching workforce and estimates that roughly 100 Teach for America corps members are currently in the classroom.
Staff members at Oakland (CA) International High School, including teachers, coaches and classroom aides are also among the school district employees who could be facing deportation if Congress and the president don’t agree on immigration legislation before March.
“They are of course worried about their futures, scared that a clearly hostile government has their information, and feel frustrated that their hard work in this country — and their decision to go into the education field in order to support their communities, rather than opting for a higher paying job--is being upended,” said Lauren Markham, the community school manager at the school, whose job it is to work with outside organizations to meet students’ needs.
While the school serves newly arrived students, who would not have qualified for DACA, Markham added that students are “just upset at the general message” they hear about immigrants from the administration. “If a student is worried about being deported, they will not be able to focus in school or take advantage of the many resources available to them.”
In her role, Markham works with legal organizations to find representation for the students, many of who come to the U.S. without parents. While many school districts have adopted a “trauma-sensitive,” or “trauma-informed” approach in recent years, those practices have often applied to situations in which immigrant and refugee children have left traumatic or violent circumstances to come to the U.S. Educators might not be as prepared to respond to the concerns of students who are worried about being forced to leave.
In a recent paper, Marquette University professors Lisa Edwards and Jacki Black recommend that teachers and other school personnel watch for signs of stress among students who could potentially be deported, such as acting withdrawn, difficulty focusing on schoolwork, loss of appetite or acting out and becoming aggressive. They also suggest working to establish trust with students, being willing to listen and having opportunities to discuss concerns with other colleagues.
Looking for ‘consensus’
National education organizations also reacted to the president’s decision and are now shifting their attention to the role of Congress in addressing immigration issues. In a statement, Chiefs for Change, a network of state and district superintendents, said, “This move by the administration heightens the urgency for Congress to take action to protect Dreamers in the form of common-sense immigration reform.”
And in a post for the conservative-leaning Fordham Institute, President Emeritus Chester E. Finn, Jr. told the story of a young man named Alex who, because of DACA, earned a college degree, became a social worker and has a teenage daughter in a charter school.
“It’s been reported that President Trump has misgivings about his own decision regarding DACA, suggesting that a tiny little heart may actually beat beneath the bluster and narcissism,” he wrote. “But he and the Attorney General have decided that it’s now up to Congress.”
In his statement following the decision, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said DACA was “never a viable long-term solution,” but he suggested that the future of DACA recipients is a top priority for him.
“At the heart of this issue are young people who came to this country through no fault of their own, and for many of them it’s the only country they know,” his statement said. “It is my hope that the House and Senate, with the president’s leadership, will be able to find consensus on a permanent legislative solution that includes ensuring that those who have done nothing wrong can still contribute as a valued part of this great country.”