How Denver Public Schools is assuring immigrant families that their children are safe in city schools

DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg, school board members and others at Thursday's news conference. (Eric Gorski, Chalkbeat)
DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg, school board members and others at Thursday's news conference. (Eric Gorski, Chalkbeat)
DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg, school board members and others at Thursday’s news conference. (Eric Gorski, Chalkbeat)

Originally posted on Chalkbeat by Eric Gorski on February 16, 2017

As fears spread in immigrant communities about enforcement crackdowns, Denver Public Schools officials took extra steps Thursday to assure families that the district will protect students’ constitutional rights.

The school board unanimously approved a resolution Thursday night affirming DPS’s approach to doing everything “in its lawful power” to protect students’ confidential information and ensure “students’ learning environments are not disrupted” by immigration enforcement actions.

“Above all else, this is for our students to have their fear replaced by confidence and hope,” Superintendent Tom Boasberg said.

Board member Rosemary Rodriguez, who represents southwest Denver, praised the “tenacity and fierce love” of immigrant parents who brought their children to the United States.

“This is a terrible time,” Rodriguez said. “But together we’re going to get through it.”

Among the steps the district promised in the resolution:
  • Continuing its practice of not collecting or maintaining any information about students’ immigration status.
  • To contact the district’s general counsel immediately about any request by a federal immigration official to talk to a student while in school or in any school activity or using district transportation.
  • That in response to any such request, the district’s general counsel won’t share information or provide access to students unless required by law, and will fight to protect students’ constitutional and legal rights.

The resolution does not represent a policy change, but spells out clearly the DPS’s position at a time of anxiety in a district with a large immigrant population. To date, DPS has not had to respond to any immigration enforcement actions, spokeswoman Nancy Mitchell said.

Leadership of the 92,000-student district took its stance on a national day of protest, “A Day Without Immigrants,” meant to spotlight immigrants’ contribution to the U.S. economy and society. Across the country, thousands skipped work and school, business owners hung “closed” signs on their doors and marchers took to the streets.

Guadalupe Tarango, a North High School senior and member of DPS’s student board of education executive team, called the resolution a way to help students feel safe.

“For most of us, school is our second home,” she said. “School is a place where we can learn and grow. And school can be a distraction from the realities we face at home.”

The resolution falls short of a demand from an activist group, Padres & Jóvenes Unidos, that DPS create a strong “sanctuary schools” policy.

Board member Lisa Flores, who represents northwest Denver and parts of west Denver, said at a news conference before Thursday’s meeting that district officials had talked about including “sanctuary” language in the resolution but decided against it because a lack of a clear definition of the term. The term “sanctuary city” is generally used to describe a city that will not cooperate with federal officials on immigration enforcement.

Flores also encouraged families to update students’ emergency contact information provided to the district.

“There is great strength in solidarity,” Flores said, referring broadly to the resolution. “There is great strength in standing together as a community to protect the rights of our students.”

DPS has taken several steps in response to concerns about how immigration policy and enforcement will play out under President Donald Trump. The district in November produced a fact sheet in four languages answering immigration questions, and last month gave voice to South High School students following Trump’s controversial executive order on refugees.

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.