Dozens of parents, children and community leaders packed Miami Dade County Public School (M-DCPS) headquarters on Tuesday, March 15, to urge the School Board to strongly reaffirm its commitment to immigrant students and families, regardless of immigration status.
Jasmine Lopez, 10 years old member of American Friends Service Committee in Miami, addresses the Miami-Dade School Board. Photo by Lis-Marie Alvarado
“We have to prevent and protect our immigrant families from being separated,” said 10-year old Jasmine Lopez, member of American Friends Service Committee in Miami and U.S. citizen whose mother is a DACA recipient. “Our people didn’t come here to harm anybody, they came to give their children a better life.”
In the end, the School Board unanimously voted to pass Board Member Lubby Navarro’s resolution so that there would be no doubt from parents and staff that M-DCPS schools are safe havens. The measure would also review current laws and district policies to determine what else the district can do to protect undocumented immigrant students.
M-DCPS Superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho was clear that he saw the measure as a continuation of policies and actions that school administrators had traditionally held on the issue, including sending a recent letter to President Donald Trump and Congressional leaders supporting immigrant children and families. However, he was more than happy to repeat the position several times before, during and after the meeting to reassure community members of his personal commitment to the issue.
“On behalf of every single kid in this community, over my dead body will any federal entity enter our schools to take immigration actions against our kids,” Carvalho told reporters after the vote.
Assembled parents and advocacy groups appreciated the efforts.
“We thank the superintendent and school board for their continuous support and leadership to protect immigrant families in Miami Dade. The implementation of all policies in place to protect our immigrant youth will be crucial in ensuring that all immigrant youth have access to an education and a learning environment that is free of fear. We look forward to working together for the safety of immigrant students and their families.” Julio Calderon organizer for the Florida Immigrant Coalition
Community residents came in concerned that the School Board was potentially dragging their feet on providing a strong concrete directives for teachers and school administrators that reassures families that local schools will become not part of aggressive federal efforts to deport students and parents. While school officials had been meeting for several weeks on the issue, community organizations and advocates were brought in late to the process, sparking fears that the M-DCPS Board would do little to fail to produce a concrete plan to protect families, as was done several weeks ago in Broward County.
“Life for immigrant communities under the current [federal] administration has not easy and for many of us, it will continue to get worse. We appreciate all steps taken to work together to protect our families and especially our children, who are witnessing the horrors of Trump’s Deportation Force.” Maria Bilbao organizer from United We Dream.
Meetings and conversations over the last several days had helped address some of those initial fears and have provided language directing schools to collaborate with parents and community groups on the issues. Still, with no clear steps outlined as to how this collaboration would occur, some wondered how they would hope to hold school officials accountable to the promises made to them and their children.
“I stand in solidarity with all immigrant communities. I have a 7 year old son who is in first grade. We are all documented and my child has come on multiple occasions asking me “what is going to happen to my friends who weren’t born here.” They are having this conversations at 7 years old. I am here because I am anxious about what is happening in our country. Parents need to be reassured that their children will be protected.” Karla Hernandez-Mats, President of united teaches of Dade
Superintendent Carvalho strongly emphasized to the Board and attending parents that current policies in place support the traditional role of Miami Dade Public Schools as safe havens that protect students and their parents, regardless of status. He hoped that both the meeting and the publicity surrounding the issue would help educate those who might be too scared to know their rights and options.
“The fact that you are having this conversation may actually inspire parents or children who may have fears with the opportunity to actually approach their principal or counselor,” said the superintendent to his remarks to the Board. “Schools are safe havens. They can ask any question of us. We shall not ask a question of them, but if asked we are ready to provide information and provide support.”
See the Superintendents full comments here.
Parents and community groups all over Florida have been asking their school officials to publicly support students and families with practical solutions that help them cope with the increased strain that aggressive federal law enforcement tactics are having on immigrants, regardless of status, is having on students in school and at home.
Last week, the Broward County School Board voted unanimously to become the first school district in Florida to designate itself an inclusive, safe and welcoming district and mandated that schools work with parents to create a “Safe Plan” that would prepare them in case they or loved ones are targeted for deportation. While the measure is noteworthy because of the current political climate, it falls well within the supportive role that schools have traditionally played around immigration. Courts have long held that public schools are legally obligated to provide all students from K-12 access to an education regardless of their immigration status. Immigration enforcement officials have also have sensitive location memos in place that do not allow them to target schools, hospitals, churches, funerals and public demonstrations.
“How we treat our children is a reflection of us. It defines the future that we have,” Broward County Superintendent Robert W. Runcie said just before the measure was passed. “The stand that we are taking here today not only sends a message to our students and our community that our schools are a safe haven for them, but it also sends a message about how they ought to view the world and how they needs to respect, celebrate and tolerate other culture. [If] we try to model love and compassion, it will move into the next generation.”