Schools and districts are being inundated with parental questions about how their schools will respond to inquiries or visits from immigration officials. To best answer, schools and districts should plan ahead. These are complicated legal, political and educational questions. We highlight some key issues below. For a fuller discussion of the legal issues in particular, check out the pamphlet that one of us wrote for the National School Boards Association. Husch Blackwell clients and members of the Council of the Great City Schools may also want to participate in our March 23, 2017 webinar on the legal rights of immigrant students.
As you work through the planning process, several questions warrant discussion:
- Collecting information. Are you collecting information on immigration status? School districts should not collect information of the immigration status of students or their parents. Undocumented students have a constitutional right to attend public schools, and schools and school districts may not legally do anything that would interfere with the students exercise of that right.
- Privacy laws. The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and data breach regulations extend protections to all students. These include the right to limited distribution of their education records and to opt-out of disclosure of “directory information,” which may include items like address and place of birth. Those laws also include some narrowly drawn exceptions related to law enforcement. Do you have a system in place for communicating and implementing opt-out requests? How do law enforcement exceptions play into your privacy policies? Has your staff been appropriately trained on privacy requirements and how to respond to requests for information?
- What should your staff say or do when faced with an inquiry or visit from an immigration official? Who should they notify? Who should interact with officials? Here is one example from a school district in Iowa.
- Family notification. Do you plan to notify families in the event of an inquiry or visit by immigration officials? If so, how, what information will be communicated, and who will do the communicating?
- Communication and training. Any plan will work best through appropriate communication and training. What common questions are you receiving and how should staff respond? Once you have a plan in place, how will you communicate it to your personnel and your community?
- School climate. In an age of antagonism and public discord, what measures are you taking to ensure that your schools have a positive climate where all students feel welcome and comfortable, including those who are immigrants, regardless of their status as documented or undocumented?
We encourage schools and districts to create both short- and long-term plans for addressing parent concerns, school and district goals, and legal requirements. A coordinated response can serve to get staff, parents, and students the information they need and ease administrative challenges that can arise from a need for communication.