sanctuary schools

As anxiety grows after Trump’s executive orders, what protections do immigrant students have in NYC schools?

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
New York City students walk out of class and march to Trump Tower to protest the results of the presidential election.

When students in Abeda Khanam’s class in Long Island City, Queens sat down to take a practice Regents exam last Monday, she noticed that some of her students’ minds were far away from the biology questions in front of them.

After class, she learned why. Her students were fixated on President Trump’s recent executive order, now temporarily halted, that barred refugees and some immigrants from entering the country. One student’s family is from the Philippines and awaiting permanent residency status in the United States, another has an uncle trying to move to America from Montenegro.

“All my students who have anything to do with immigration are anxious,” Khanam said. “You can see it on their faces.”

While New York City schools are meant to be safe spaces, they are also places data and documents are collected. The city and advocates are working to make sure that information stays private — and that immigrants feel protected.

Days after Trump’s most recent order, the Department of Education sent a letter home to families explaining the protections that students have in schools. The letter promises, among other things, that schools would not ask students about their immigration status. If they learn a student’s status, they will not record or release that information.

The letter also make it clear that all students, regardless of their country of origin, religion or immigration status are welcome in city schools.

“Whether your or your family arrived 100 years ago or 100 days ago — you are all New Yorkers — and we stand with you,” reads the letter, signed by schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña and Commissioner Nisha Agarwal of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs.

The letter states ICE officials are not permitted to access schools without “proper legal authority.” That authority is determined on a case-by-base basis, according to education department officials, and might include, for example, a subpoena for student records.

If ICE officials do visit schools, they will be referred to principals to take “appropriate action,” the letter states. Education department officials said that means the principal will contact the senior field counsel, an attorney who assists school administrators, and await further instructions.

But Rishi Singh, director of youth organizing at DRUM, an organization that helps South Asian immigrants in New York City, thinks the Department of Education could go further.

“We would like to see the Department of Education take a stronger stance, saying that they would not comply with federal policies if it were targeting their students,” Singh said. “That would ease the fears and tension that young people are facing right now.”

In addition to the restrictions on revealing immigration status, the letter also seeks to reassure families that schools will not share any student information unless “required to by law.” That means the city might have to release it if there is a subpoena or a health and safety emergency, education department officials said, though typically it would require parental consent.

But advocates worry that if a school were legally required to release information, even with no explicit record of immigration status, there could be revealing information in a student’s file. For instance, some families provide immigration papers when registering children for school, which sometimes get photocopied and put in a student’s file, said Abja Midha, a project director at Advocates for Children.

While this item may not say whether a child is undocumented, it could provide a clue as to status since undocumented families often have no other proof of identity, age or residency, she said. She hopes the city will consider removing any unnecessary documentation in student files.

New York state also collects information about a child’s country of origin and ethnicity. While parents should be aware this information is out there, the data is unlikely to expose undocumented students, said Amelia Vance, education policy counsel for the Future of Privacy Forum, an organization dedicated to promoting good data practices.

“It’s certainly is something to keep an eye on,” Vance said. “But it’s not something that people should be really afraid of right now.”

Regardless of the actual threat level, the president’s rhetoric puts immigrants on edge, advocates say, and the city should look for additional ways to safeguard them.

New York City is far from the only city grappling with this issue — and districts across the country are taking action. For instance, Pittsburgh Public Schools declared itself a “sanctuary” campus, which means immigration agents will not be allowed on school grounds without permission from the district’s law department and the superintendent. And Oakland vowed to notify legal aid groups if immigration authorities request to visit a school. While some of these gestures are largely symbolic, the message itself can be reassuring.

“The chancellor’s letter and the policy that’s laid out … are good first steps,” said Midha. “I do think that in the current climate, families really do need to feel reassured that New York City schools are a safe space and a welcoming space for them.”

tailoring transformation

How a Memphis school that missed the turnaround tide plans to catch up under Hopson’s budget

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Principal Antonio Harvey shows kindergarteners how to blow bubbles during a graduation celebration at Hawkins Mill Elementary School in the Frayser community of Memphis.

Located in one of the most concentrated neighborhoods of school turnaround work in America, Hawkins Mill Elementary School is in many ways a throwback to Memphis public education before the city became a battleground for school improvement efforts.

It’s one of the few schools in the city’s Frayser community that hasn’t undergone a major intervention plan in the last decade — unlike the state-run, charter and Innovation Zone schools that surround it.

But that’s about to change.

As part of his initiative to invest in struggling schools instead of just closing them, Superintendent Dorsey Hopson picked Hawkins Mill to join more than a dozen other Memphis schools that will receive new resources under next year’s budget for Shelby County Schools. (You can see the full list here.)

Dubbed “critical focus schools,” the schools were chosen for reasons that range from poor test scores to low enrollment to aging buildings — all criteria that district leaders have used in recent years to close more than 20 schools.

But about $5.9 million in new investments soon will be spread across the schools based on transformation plans developed this spring with school administrators, teachers and parents in partnership with district leaders.

Principal Antonio Harvey says the process has inspired a climate of hope at Hawkins Mill, which has been among the state’s 5 percent of lowest-performing schools since 2012.

“We’re getting the message out there that we’re invested in this community, we’re not giving up on this community, we support you,” said Harvey, who just completed his fourth year at the elementary school.

For years, the school’s leaders have tried to turn around academics in a zip code where about half the households live on less than $25,000 per year. But there’s never been a significant influx of resources, making progress negligible.

As part of Hopson’s budget, Hawkins Mill will receive an extra $300,000, mostly for staff hires that include a science teacher, teacher assistants, an instructional facilitator and an interventionist. The school also will require more team projects in classrooms; add a STEM specialty for science, technology, engineering and math; and host a dance academy under Watoto Memphis, an Afro-centric performing arts program.

“We were able to sit down and put a lot of energy into the plan because the thinking process was already there,” Harvey said of the new strategy.

Most of the needs had been identified in previous years but were a pipe dream without additional investments, according to Janet Rutherford, the school’s professional learning coach.

“Now we can make this happen,” she said.

 

Teams for other critical focus schools also have been developing transformation plans, each tailored to meet their individual needs and challenges.

Some are borrowing components from Shelby County Schools’ flagship turnaround program called the iZone. Those include an hour tacked onto the school day, retention bonuses for top teachers, and more teacher coaches.

Like other schools in the newest initiative, Hawkins Mill will have to meet benchmarks within three years if it wants to avoid closure. Those benchmarks are still being identified, but school leaders at Hawkins Mill are already figuring out how to address other challenges with enrollment, attendance and behavior. The plan includes home visits for chronically absent students and launching Hawks Buck Store, a weekly incentive program in which students can win prizes for good behavior.

Note: 2013-14 science and 2014-15 social studies test scores were not listed in the state report card. Elementary students did not take TNReady in 2015-16.

Community leaders are welcoming the investments in a school that was eyed for takeover in 2015 by Tennessee’s Achievement School District. At the time, Hawkins Mill was being considered for operation by the ASD’s direct-run Achievement Schools, which includes five Frayser schools already in turnaround mode.

Charlie Caswell, a longtime community leader and pastor at Union Grove Baptist Church, said he hopes Shelby County Schools will use the Achievement Schools’ community engagement model as it implements the transformation plans.

“Our hope is that it will be a game-changer for schools to have the autonomy based on what they know their needs are in the community,” he said.

Changes

As Denver gentrifies, which neighborhoods are losing public school students?

PHOTO: Marissa Page
Members of Denver's Strengthening Neighborhoods Initiative committee examine demographic data at a meeting Monday.

As more young adults move to Denver and the cost of housing skyrockets, some city neighborhoods are seeing drops in the percentages of people of color and children.

Those changes affect Denver Public Schools, which has been the fastest-growing urban school district in the country. But that growth is slowing. Birth rates are down and many of the new transplants responsible for Denver’s population boom don’t have kids.

In addition, rising housing prices are pushing families out of some neighborhoods. A recent report by the Colorado Children’s Campaign found that the 92,000-student district is more racially segregated now than it was ten years ago. (DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg has said he doesn’t necessarily agree with that claim.)

A new committee created by the Denver school board got a closer look this week at population changes and demographic shifts in Denver’s 78 neighborhoods.

The Strengthening Neighborhoods Initiative committee is set to spend the next six months studying how gentrification is impacting schools. The 42 members are tasked with suggesting ways to increase racial and economic integration in DPS schools and address the declining number of school-aged children in certain parts of the city.

The data provided to the committee at its second-ever meeting Monday night includes a lot of numbers, and you can see them in full at the bottom of this story. But we’ve pulled out some highlights.

Five neighborhoods where the number of students who attend a DPS school declined from 2010 to 2015.

1. Highland in northwest Denver, down 21 percent.
2. Marston in southwest Denver, down 14 percent.
3. Lincoln Park in west Denver, down 13 percent.
4. Jefferson Park in northwest Denver, down 12 percent.
5. Sunnyside in northwest Denver, down 6 percent. Bear Valley in southwest Denver and Clayton in central Denver also saw 6 percent decreases.

Five neighborhoods that saw big demographic shifts from 2010 to 2015.

1. Northeast Park Hill in near northeast Denver, where the percentage of black residents shrunk from 55 to 42 percent and the percentage of white residents grew from 11 to 20 percent.

2. Baker in northwest Denver, where half the residents in 2010 were Hispanic. By 2015, white residents were the majority: 56 percent compared 34 percent who were Hispanic.

3. Whittier in central Denver, where 40 percent of residents in 2010 were black and 38 percent were white. In 2015, 24 percent of residents were black and 50 percent were white.

3. Globeville in central Denver, which saw its Hispanic population decrease from 80 percent to 61 percent and its white population increase from 15 to 33 percent.

5. A few neighborhoods saw increases in the percentage of residents of color and decreases in the percentage of white residents, though white residents remained the majority. They include Hampden in southeast Denver and Washington Virginia Vale in near northeast Denver.

Five neighborhoods that saw big changes in the percentage of families living in poverty from 2010 to 2015.

1. Baker in northwest Denver, where the percentage of families living in poverty fell from 47 percent in 2010 to 17 percent in 2015, which is the citywide poverty rate.

2. Jefferson Park in northwest Denver, where the percentage fell from 48 to 24 percent.

3. Lincoln Park in northwest Denver, where the percentage fell from 47 to 26 percent.

4. West Colfax in northwest Denver, which saw the sharpest increase from 20 to 35 percent.

5. College View in southwest Denver, which saw an increase from 29 to 38 percent.

The data shows that many of Denver’s neighborhoods are racially segregated. Here are the neighborhoods where 80 percent or more of residents in 2015 were of one ethnicity.

Westwood in southwest Denver, 80 percent Hispanic
Elyria Swansea in central Denver, 83 percent Hispanic
West Highland in northwest Denver, 80 percent white
Civic Center in northwest Denver, 82 percent white
City Park in central Denver, 81 percent white
Congress Park in central Denver, 82 percent white
Cherry Creek in central Denver, 87 percent white
Speer in southeast Denver, 86 percent white
Washington Park West in southeast Denver, 85 percent white
Washington Park in southeast Denver, 90 percent white
Belcaro in southeast Denver, 93 percent white
Cory-Merrill in southeast Denver, 86 percent white
Platt Park in southeast Denver, 89 percent white
University Park in southeast Denver, 84 percent white
Wellshire in southeast Denver, 92 percent white
Southmoor Park in southeast Denver, 87 percent white
Hilltop in near northeast Denver, 90 percent white
There were no neighborhoods where 80 percent or more of residents were black.

The committee is set to meet next in August to discuss DPS’s existing integration policies.

Chalkbeat intern Marissa Page contributed information to this report.