Austin School Board Approves Resolution to Support Immigrant Students

Feb 21, 2017

The Austin School Board unanimously approved a resolution 9-0 Monday night in support of all students, regardless of immigration status. 

"NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Austin Independent School District will strive to create the safest possible environments for its students and employees, providing them the foundation needed to learn, thrive, seek assistance and information, and reach each child’s potential in an education-focused environment, free of insecurity and fear, for all its employees, students and their families, regardless of immigration status."

School board members have been crafting a resolution in support of immigrant students since last school year after the valedictorian of Crockett High School announced on Twitter she was undocumented. She got a lot of criticism on social media, and some trustees wanted to make sure similar students knew their schools are welcoming places.

The resolution stalled due to board politics until last week, after Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested around 50 people in the Austin area — causing panic in the immigrant community.

Trustees renewed a push for the resolution. It has little practical effect, but it sends a message. The version passed last night states the district’s support of all students, but specifically included language about immigrant families.

“We recognize the fear in our communities," Austin School Board President Kendall Pace said. "We also recognize that community engagement and trust-building is tantamount to our collective success. We share the concerns and wanted to make a statement tonight reconfirming our commitment to our families and our students.”

At a press conference before the school board meeting, Superintendent Paul Cruz said all students are welcome and will be educated in Austin public schools. Federal law requires districts educate all students, regardless of immigration status.

“It’s really plain and simple," Cruz said. "In Austin ISD, we educate students and that’s the message to all of our Austin community. In doing so, I fully support our teachers, our principals and staff members in creating safe learning environments for all of our students.”

Cruz answered questions about immigrant and undocumented students, but did not specifically mention immigrant students in his remarks.

Last week, district lawyers sent a memo to campuses with guidelines for the types of legal information staff can give to students. The memo was sent after some staff members advised students about what to do if immigration enforcement agents showed up at their homes. It caused some confusion on campuses, and the local teacher’s union, Education Austin, pushed back against the memo.

On Monday, Cruz said he would have been more specific in those memos earlier. But he responded to questions as soon as possible.

“Every single day since questions have been coming forward, we have been responding, maybe not in a situation like this, but directly to our staff members," he said.

The Austin School Board’s resolution comes after Houston and San Antonio passed similar resolutions in support of their immigrant students. 

Micaela Ross contributed to this report.