Austin ISD Warns Staff Not to Share Immigration Resources Without Approval

Feb 14, 2017

In the wake of recent ICE arrests in the Austin area, Austin ISD lawyers are directing principals and staff not to share with students resources and fliers that have not been vetted by the superintendent's office or general counsel. 

According to a memorandum sent to campus leaders Monday, employees may not "speak to political affiliation, views, protests, advocacy or other controversial issues or topics that may arise while on District property."  

The memo also warns of possible scrutiny or repercussions from state lawmakers. 

"Austin ISD is unique in that it is the District of the Texas Capital and is know for being politically and socially active; therefore its activities, statements, and reactions are immensely scrutinized," the memo said. "This increased oversight that is not experienced by all school districts emphasizes the need and importance for District employees to be meticulous and very calculated in their actions and responses to controversial events."

The memorandum was sent after at least 51 people were detained by ICE agents last Thursday and Friday in the area that includes Austin and San Antonio. Schools reported heightened anxiety and confusion among students who were afraid of what might happen to their families. 

Austin School Board Vice President Paul Saldaña criticized the memorandum and said the school board was not briefed before it was sent. 

"I'm a little perplexed regarding this latest email or memo that was delivered to all of the campuses, to the principals and the teachers, because it’s in direct contradiction to what I thought we were committed to as a district," Saldaña said. "I'm quite taken aback and very surprised with the conservative tone of the memorandum."

On Friday, Austin Superintendent Paul Cruz posted a general list of district resources for immigrant and refugee students on the district's website. But Education Austin has been more explicit about the information it's sharing, disseminating thousands of documents that explain what to do if ICE stops you on the street or shows up at your door or at work. The local teacher's organization also distributed names of trusted immigration lawyers. Education Austin hosted multiple Know Your Rights seminars for teachers and community members last weekend. 

"This is not about whether the district has a right to control certain messages or not," Education Austin President Ken Zarifis said. "We recognize the district has that right. What we’re arguing is that there is information that is pertinent to the security of our families that are under attack that we can safely get out to them. It is not political. It is not agitational. It is informational. And that is what we want to do. Families need to know where turn, what they can do, because most don’t know. It’s a learning opportunity. We’re schools. Let’s teach."

The union is holding a news conference Wednesday at Lanier High School to encourage the district to communicate this information to families clearly. Saldaña said board members will also discuss the memorandum at Wednesday's board operations meeting.