'We Have Their Backs': School Board in Florida Promises to Protect Students From Immigration Raids

by | March 8, 2017

By Kyra Gurney

Broward County schools will become a safe zone of sorts for immigrant students and their families under a resolution passed on Tuesday by the school board.

In what supporters called a first-of-its kind action in Florida, the School Board of Broward County took several steps intended to protect the children of undocumented immigrants who face increasing fears of deportation under more aggressive immigration enforcement policies implemented by the Trump administration.

Immigrant families "wanted to know that we had their backs, and now with this resolution we have their backs," said Robin Bartleman, the school board member who proposed the measure. "We weren't afraid to stand up and say we're going to protect our children."

The resolution came in response to concerns voiced by residents, who told board members that many immigrants have started taking extra precautions to get children to school. Some now walk children to school, instead of driving, to avoid any infractions that could get them pulled over and deported. Others have begun sending their children to school with copies of immigration paperwork tucked in backpacks.

[Immigrant families] wanted to know that we had their backs, and now with this resolution we have their backs. Robin Bartleman, school board member in Broward County

The resolution states that Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents cannot enter schools or the sites of school-related activities like sports games and field trips without a warrant, and that any requests to access a school or get information about a student will be directed to the school district attorney's office.

Although Palm Beach County has similar policies, Broward became the first school district in South Florida to solidify those policies in a resolution. The nine-member board voted unanimously to pass the resolution. The board is nonpartisan, but Broward is a heavily Democratic county.

It's a move supporters say will make immigrant families feel safer and prevent the fear of deportation from keeping kids away from school.

"Going through high school I never got the support from either the teachers or the counselors, probably not because they didn't want to, but it was because they didn't know how to help me," said Julio Calderon, an undocumented immigrant and youth organizer for the Florida Immigrant Coalition. "The position we're taking is saying yes we're here for all of you and that we're not going to allow you to be in fear."

The Broward school board also voted to have schools work with parents and community organizations to come up with a plan in case a student's parents are deported. The so-called "Safe Place Plan" will also provide teachers with resources to support immigrant students, said Victoria Saldala, director of the district's English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program.

The provision was inspired by a Broward high school senior who was recently left alone in the U.S. after both of his parents were deported. "That's when it hit home for me," Bartleman said. "I can watch it on the news, I can see what's happening, but when I spoke to that principal and I spoke with the employees who dealt with that student, it made it real. All too real."

The Miami-Dade school board will vote on a similar policy at its March 15 meeting. If passed, the board item would direct the superintendent to review current immigration policies and determine what actions the district can take to protect undocumented students. The information would then be distributed to teachers and families.

(c)2017 Miami Herald