Recently I spent the afternoon celebrating Chinese New Year at the invitation of the family of one of my students. I sat in a room filled with people from all over the world, listening to conversations in Chinese, Spanish, German, and Turkish and sampling exotic dishes I’d never even imagined. In the midst of this atmosphere of joyful camaraderie I glanced down at my phone and saw a friend’s post warning families in East Charlotte to stay inside because Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had been spotted on Eastway Drive. The contrast between my experience in that room and the reality beyond its walls was heartbreaking.
Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools serves students from 183 countries who speak 197 unique languages. Almost 30 percent of our students have a home language other than English. This rich multicultural tapestry is one of our community’s greatest strengths, and it offers a daily opportunity for us to experience a variety of perspectives and learn from each other.
CMS’s core beliefs hold that we will embrace our community’s diversity and that “families and communities are necessary partners in ensuring the academic, social, emotional and behavioral success of our students.” At the moment the success of some of those students is being threatened like never before. The activity of ICE agents is growing increasingly ruthless, as individuals with no criminal convictions on their records are being snatched off the streets with no warning. As Superintendent Clayton Wilcox alluded to in comments at last week’s Board of Education meeting, some of our students enter our schools in the morning wondering whether their family members or neighbors will still be there when they get home. Atlanta ICE Field Director Sean Gallagher recently referred to these circumstances as “the new normal,” so we must expect that such inhumane tactics will continue.
In light of the serious harm this current climate may inflict on our children, it’s important to ask if our school district is doing everything we can to provide a safe and welcoming environment to all the families we serve and be the partner that our community desperately needs. I’d argue that we could be doing more.
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Here are some steps that our school district should consider to support our students during this difficult time:
▪ Provide additional counseling, ideally dual language, for students who are experiencing trauma due to ICE activity in our community.
▪ Work with local advocacy groups to educate our families on what their rights are as they relate to immigration policy by hosting Know Your Rights events or distributing information about the rights of non citizens.
▪ Reassure families that our schools and bus stops are safe havens and that any request by ICE agents to enter school property will be denied pending review of the required judicial warrant by the superintendent and CMS general counsel.
▪ Remind families that the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) requires school districts to maintain confidentiality of all personally identifiable information in student records and that CMS will resist all voluntary sharing of information with immigration authorities to the fullest extent allowed by law.
Now is the time for Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools to show that our core beliefs are more than just talk. Our students need us to step up and be the bold champion they deserve.