Education

District 209 Declares Itself a ‘Welcoming and Safe District’ for All Students

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Members of the District 209 school board during a Feb. 15 board meeting where they passed a resolution designating the district “welcoming and safe.” Click the image to access the meeting video. The discussion on the resolution starts at around the 54:00 mark. 

Friday, February 17, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews || Updated: 12:44 p.m.

At a Feb. 15 regular meeting, the Proviso Township High Schools District 209 school board voted 5 to 1 in favor of a resolution that would reaffirm the district “as a Welcoming and Safe District for all students.” The resolution was read in both English and Spanish by board members.

During the discussion preceding the resolution’s passage, board member Claudia Medina said that the measure will make the district “have a conversation … to ensure that we follow the correct procedures and know exactly what to do in extreme cases, because there are scenarios that will be presented to us with this change of government that will require us to have conversations that we haven’t had yet.”

Medina cited the executive order President Donald J. Trump signed last month that calls for the hiring of 10,000 new immigration officers.

Trump also called “for the deportation of immigrants living here illegally who have been convicted of a crime, been charged with a crime, committed acts that ‘constitute a chargeable criminal offense,’ have abused a program related to public benefits, who have been subject to ‘a final order of removal,’ or who in the judgment of an immigration officer ‘pose a risk to public safety or national security,'” according to a Chicago Tribune report.

In addition, the president called for a portion of federal funding to be cut for sanctuary cities, including Chicago. Last month, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel reaffirmed the city’s designation as a sanctuary city.

The District 209 resolution reinforces the district’s commitment “to ensuring that all schools and district facilities are welcoming and safe places for students and their families,” and for providing a free public education to all area students “regardless of their immigration status.”

The resolution also addresses U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency responsible for seizing illegal immigrants.

Earlier this month, ICE announced that it had conducted raids in several metropolitan areas across the country, including in the Chicago area. Agency officials said that ICE arrested 680 people across the country “who pose a threat to public safety, border security or the integrity of our nation’s immigration system.”Forty-seven of those arrests took place in the Chicago area, with one arrest happening in Melrose Park.

The district’s resolution comes in the wake of measures taken by other government bodies, including Oak Park — which recently designated itself a Sanctuary City — and former D209 board president and state Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch (7th), who has sponsored the Immigration Safe Zones Act (or HB 462).

Other municipalities within District 209’s borders, including Maywood, Melrose Park and Forest Park, have considered passing Sanctuary City ordinances. Over 53 percent of the district’s student population is Hispanic and 30 percent of the residents in Proviso Township are Hispanic.

“I was listening to a story about someone in a neighboring community, a seventh-grader, who was scared to go to school because he was afraid that his parents may not be home when he got back from school,” said Maywood Trustee Isiah Brandon during board discussions held Feb. 15 about possibly designating that village a Sanctuary City.

And Welch said that his office received calls from students who were “crying and needed to be counseled all day because … the rhetoric they heard in the presidential campaign was quite disturbing,” according to a report by the West Suburban Journal.

Welch’s proposal gives schools, health care facilities, and places of worship the power to deny access to state and local law enforcement agencies that cooperate with ICE to “investigate, detain or arrest” anyone in violation of federal immigration law, unless a court warrant has been issued, among other provisions. The bill is still up for debate in the House.

There was heated discussion among District 209 board members Medina and Dan Adams about the wisdom of passing the resolution after President Trump had issued his executive order threatening to cut funding from entities that would defy federal immigration laws and ICE officials.

The resolution states that “unless specifically required by law,” anyone formally associated with the district, including employees, representatives, volunteers and contractors, “shall refrain from inquiring about immigration status or to produce documentation regarding immigration status of a student or parent.”

The resolution also advises district employees, contractors, volunteers and representatives to require any ICE official attempting to enter district facilities to first notify the superintendent and the district’s general counsel “in advance of such entry and provide proper written authority.”

Adams said that the district doesn’t have the authority to stop an ICE official from entering a school facility.

“They don’t have to listen to you,” Adams said. “They can just come in here. You can’t say, ‘Hey you have to call the superintendent.’ They’re not calling the superintendent. They’re coming in. End of story.”

William Gleason, the district’s legal counsel, said that if an ICE official shows up at a district facility “without a warrant and tells you they’re going to take somebody, I would not advise any of your staff or officials to impede with a government official because even if their action is unlawful, your interference is a crime.”

Gleason said that, typically, ICE officials don’t go into “sensitive areas,” such as churches and schools; however, there is no certainty that this longstanding protocol will continue under the current presidential administration, he conceded.

“Legally they would not be required to call superintendent, but most law enforcement officials are willing to cooperate with you to a reasonable degree,” Gleason said. “But most of the time if they said, ‘We don’t care,’ there would be no means for us to physically stop them.” 

Gleason added that he believes it’s unlikely that ICE agents will enter school facilities in order to fish for students who are illegal immigrants. He said that, when they do enter sensitive areas, they usually have a warrant to arrest a particular person.

“If they show up for a specific reason, your resolution is not going to stop them,” he said.

Adams, who voted against the measure, argued that the resolution’s lack of enforcement power to stop ICE renders it meaningless and that, since it reinforces many of district policies that are already implemented, it is unnecessarily duplicative. He also argued that it could potentially harm the district by putting it in the position to lose federal funding with the designation.

“This means absolutely nothing,” Adams said. “You’re giving kids a false sense of security by saying, ‘Oh, if we pass this resolution, you’re safe and this is a safe zone.’ … What are we going to do if they withhold funds? Are we going to raise taxes? …  Has anybody ever come here and taken anybody? Has ICE ever come to this building No. Nobody’s ever been deported from their school. But now you’re shining a spotlight on us.”

As Medina pointed out, whether or not local municipalities would actually lose federal funding by adopting Sanctuary City legislation, however, is a matter of considerable national debate — despite President Donald J. Trump’s campaign pledge to “eliminate all federal funding from sanctuary localities.”

“Cities, counties and states with sanctuary policies get federal money from dozens of different departments, most of which are not related to immigration,” the Washington Post reported.

Board members said that the resolution could be subject to change after further review, but that the principle underlying the document is fixed in place.

“[This resolution is] to assure and to reaffirm that [the district] is safe and welcoming for all students,” said Superintendent Jesse Rodriguez. Read the full resolution below. VFP

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One thought on “District 209 Declares Itself a ‘Welcoming and Safe District’ for All Students

  1. Its a shame for the one board member to see our kids as economic value, by worrying about funds being cut. The kids should be allowed to have a safe haven. I hope the board member dont look at a race for money, an money only. The hispanic kids need a education too. The board member is a problem, when it comes to equal rights. Keep up the good work, Ms Kelly-

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