In January, New York City’s schools chancellor, Carmen Farina, sent a letter home to students’ families, reassuring them that the city was not keeping records of their immigration status and that immigration agents would not be roaming schools unfettered.
However, that has not kept the questions from coming, said Maite Junco, a senior adviser at the city’s Education Department.
School administrators and parents who are worried about US President Donald Trump’s crackdown on immigrants in the country illegally want “details on exactly how the process works,” Junco said.
“In a circumstance where ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] shows up at the school, what is the minute-by-minute protocol almost,” she said.
Junco said the department is planning to circulate more detailed guidelines to schools soon.
Across the region — and the nation — education officials are facing a similar flood of questions from principals and frantic parents, especially in districts with large numbers of immigrants, some of whom are in the country illegally.
In response, states have distributed letters to superintendents about asking for warrants and subpoenas from ICE agents.
Reminders have circulated that schools are never to ask families about their immigration status when they enroll their children. Districts have circulated memos about what to do if federal immigration officers show up at the schoolhouse door.
No such raids have been documented so far, and the US Department of Homeland Security has declared schools off limits.
However, under the Trump administration, immigration policies have changed sharply and without much warning. Districts say they want to be prepared.
“If you’re sitting there in math class wondering if someone is going to burst through the door and pick you up, you’re not going to be learning math well,” said William Clark, chief operating officer of the New Haven Board of Education in Connecticut. “The kids should not be worried about this. They’re here to learn.”
For the moment, much of what school systems are offering is guidance, and whether it is written by the Connecticut public university system, the New York City Education Department or the state of Virginia, many of the recommendations are similar.
Schools often say student information must not be shared without a court order or subpoena. They instruct that if an ICE officer comes looking for a student, the school officials should demand to see a warrant and review it carefully to find out what exactly it permits.
“The law does provide protections for students and there are limitations of what law enforcement can do,” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said. “We’re doing our best to fill in the background and to tell them that students have a lot of rights.”
Many guidance documents also offer advice on preparing for raids that might happen outside school.
In a letter that the Chicago public school system sent to schools last month, one section is titled, “Children Left Stranded Because His/Her Parent Is Detained by ICE.”
The first recommendation, a piece of advice shared by many districts, is that schools encourage parents to update their child’s emergency contact list and to include backups, like friends or relatives, to create a broader safety net.
Since 2011, ICE has had a policy regarding what it calls “sensitive locations,” including schools, where enforcement actions “should generally be avoided,” agency spokeswoman Carissa Cutrell said.
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