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LAUSD board takes another strong stand against feds to soothe immigrant fears

Mike Szymanski | May 9, 2017

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Mónica García speaks about her immigration resolution with Ref Rodriguez, left.

LA Unified reinforced its position Tuesday as the strongest school district to stand against the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant policies by passing a resolution that specifically forbids employees from cooperating with federal authorities over immigration inquiries.

The resolution was another addition to a series of sweeping propositions passed by the second-largest school district in the nation since Donald Trump was elected president. It was sponsored by board members Mónica García and Ref Rodriguez and asks the superintendent to develop a rapid-response network that includes training teachers and administrators on how to help families when dealing with Immigration and Customs Enforcement inquiries and raids.

Fatima Avelica-Gonzalez talks about her father’s arrest.

School board President Steve Zimmer asked to be a co-sponsor of the resolution and said, “This is proud non-cooperation, and we will provide resources and let it be known that no family, LAUSD or charter school that we authorized, will ever be alone again. We stand together.”

The resolution offers education for students and at parent centers, including a “Know Your Rights” presentation created by the ACLU. It prohibits the district from sharing any data with ICE or any federal agency. It also makes legal support and counseling available to immigrant students and their families.

The proposition doesn’t specifically mention independent public charter schools, and many of those schools, which educate 16 percent of all LA Unified students, will have to come up with their own plans of action, according to charter school advocates. But, Zimmer made it clear that he thought charters were included.

In an unusual move, Karen Calderon, the student board member whose vote is advisory, asked to co-sponsor the resolution as well and talked about her best friend who is undocumented. “She is afraid of going out of state and considering her top choice, which was an Ivy League school, and is one of the most hard-working people I know,” Calderon said.

The board members, who were assisted by the ACLU in writing the proposition, said they wanted to continue striving toward making the schools a sanctuary for all students and their families.

“Los Angeles Unified is a leader in the country and they will be the first school district in the nation to implement policies to help stand against the threats to their undocumented students,” said Sylvia Torres-Guillén, director of education equity at the ACLU of California. “We have to thank board President Steve Zimmer and board members Mónica García and Ref Rodriguez for their work in standing up for all their students, especially the ones who are now with the most fear.”

Horlenas Flores lives in fear every day going to her school in Atwater Village. “I wake up every morning petrified, that this time my family will be the one that is ripped apart. I speak for undocumented families, including my own, in support of safe schools,” she said at a rally outside LA Unified headquarters on Tuesday morning. She is a senior at Alliance Leichtman-Levine Family Foundation Science High School.

Fatima Avelica-Gonzalez, the girl who recorded her father being arrested by ICE agents in February while she was being dropped off at her charter school, spoke at the rally a few hours before the vote was scheduled. She and her sister Yuleni attended with other families holding signs of protest.

Marcos Aguilar urges other charter schools to get involved.

“I just wouldn’t want any families to go through what we have gone through,” Fatima said quietly, in both English and Spanish. A family spokesperson said that the girls’ father is still going through legal proceedings and remains in custody. The girls have been able to see their father.

“I call on all charter schools to use their autonomy to fight against the fascist, hateful, and biased actions of the Trump administration and stand against the fear of violence and death at the hands of government employees that are faced by our students and their families,” said Marcos Aguilar, the executive director of the Anahuacalmecac International Baccalaureate World School. “I am delighted with what LAUSD has done, but charter schools can also be at the forefront of standing against this growing anti-immigrant hatred.”

Aguilar said he knows first-hand that LA Unified has helped charter schools in times of crisis, but he noted Tuesday’s resolution doesn’t extend legal advice, trainings, or mental health help to charter schools.

“We have had many charter schools adopt strong measures like this to make their schools safe for immigrant families,” said Sarah Angel of the California Charter Schools Association. Angel urged the district to extend services to independent charter schools and those co-located on district campuses.

Clayton Rosa, the regional advocacy director of CCSA, told a personal story about his father from the Dominican Republic who is facing deportation hearings after bringing his family over and opening a barber shop. “I am emotionally exhausted and spiritually defeated, and I want to fight for others not to have to go through this with their families when they should be focusing on education,” Rosa said.

Superintendent Michelle King said that the district has already started disseminating helpful material to parents and students and said, “Principals are using their ‘coffee with the principal’ time at their school sites to share this information and it is happening across the district.”

Board member Mónica Ratliff said she was concerned that some families are afraid to come to public meetings. At two schools where immigration information was handed out, 15 showed up at one school and 25 at the other. “It wasn’t the turnout we hoped for, but maybe they are still afraid to show up, maybe the information should be included in other assemblies,” Ratliff said.

“There are xenophobic conversations going on,” board member García said. “This is an issue that has united Los Angeles, and the city is coming together to stand up against fear.”

Rodriguez added, “These are steps against ignorance and racism. LAUSD is the modern day Ellis Island and will continue to be.”

The school board voted 7-0 to approve the resolution.

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