Show of support

Denver students walk out to protest end of DACA, and to call on Congress to act

PHOTO: Melanie Asmar
Denver students chant after walking out of school on September 5, 2017 to protest Trump's decision to end DACA.

Students from more than 20 Denver schools walked out of class and converged on a downtown college campus Tuesday morning to protest President Trump’s order to end a federal program that protects young undocumented immigrants from deportation.

“What do we do when students are under attack?” organizers with microphones shouted at the crowd, which they estimated numbered 2,500 students, teachers and supporters.

“Stand up! Fight back!” the crowd chanted.

The atmosphere at the rally was less intense than at the school walkouts that occurred in the wake of Trump’s election in November, which were marked by visceral disbelief and uncertainty. Tuesday’s rally felt more like a battle cry and a call to action.

“I am here to let them know we are not disposable!” said Paul Yumbla, a teacher at DSST: College View in southwest Denver, who first applied for the protections afforded by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, when he was in college. The program, which began in 2012, is for immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.

Trump has delayed the end of DACA for six months, allowing Congress time to come up with a plan to address immigration legislatively.

Two girls who said they are DACA recipients were among the students who walked out Tuesday.

Flor Canales, 16, a student at DSST: Cole High School, said she felt hurt when she heard the news that DACA would end, but said hope isn’t gone.

“I will keep going to school and I will keep fighting,” Canales said.

She said she felt supported by the crowd and by her school. She said teachers took time to talk with her last week about the news that DACA was about to end.

Ana Rios, 16, a senior at STRIVE Prep Excel, said she has been in the country for 11 years.

“I’m a little heartbroken,” Rios said. “I’m not sure what’s going to happen now.”

When she got DACA status almost a year ago, her plan had been to get a business degree to help her family start a welding business. Her brother, also a DACA recipient, wasn’t able to go to school, she said, because his school at the time didn’t support him and he didn’t find a way to afford college.

She said she now sees a difference in support for immigrant students like her.

“If it wasn’t for my school I wouldn’t be thinking about college right now,” Rios said. “They’re all about showing us there is a space for us, there are are scholarships, there are opportunities. I didn’t know there were so many people who supported us.”

Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg released a statement calling Trump’s decision to end DACA “shortsighted, heartless and harmful.”

“Our DACA students and educators have tremendous capacity, potential and desire to contribute to our community,” he said. “…We know these young people, we welcome and respect them, and we will do all we can to right this wrong.”

Students from several west Denver high schools met at local parks and marched to the college campus together. At the front of the pack with a bullhorn leading chants of, “Whose streets? Our streets!” was 17-year-old Gianella Millan, a senior at the Denver Center for International Studies whose mother is a community organizer and whose father was deported several years ago.

Although Millan isn’t at risk of deportation herself, she said she’s fighting for her community.

“I know so many students with a 4.0 GPA who could have scholarships but can’t because they don’t have that nine-digit number,” she said, referring to a Social Security number.

Alexandra Payan, 16, a student at North High, said she also walked out for friends and family.

“I was lucky enough to be born here,” Payan said. “It was an advantage I didn’t know I had until I saw some of my family and friends struggling with how to go to school.”

Alondra Prado, a 16-year-old student from the Rise Up Community High School in Denver, said she was there to show support for people like her sister’s husband.

“If he can’t get his DACA renewed, it’s going to be really hard for them to pay their rent,” Prado said. “It makes a big difference.”

He couldn’t be at the rally himself because he was working, she said.

Ulises, a 15-year-old sophomore at West Leadership Academy who declined to give his last name, said he’s the first child in his family to be born in the United States. Several of his cousins have benefitted from DACA, he said, and he thinks rescinding it is unfair.

“We just come here to make our lives better,” he said.

Jorge Resendez, a high school social studies teacher at Contemporary Learning Academy, marched with a group of his students. Resendez has a work permit under DACA. He said his biggest fear is that if Congress doesn’t act, he’ll no longer be able to teach.

“Now more than ever we have to come out and push back,” he said.

As they were wrapping up, crowd organizers chanted the names of U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner and U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, both Republicans, asking DACA supporters to call them.

Gardner announced Tuesday he would join U.S. Sen Michael Bennet, a Colorado Democrat, in backing a bipartisan bill that would shield young immigrants from deportation and give them a path to citizenship.

Coffman has proposed forcing action on a bill he introduced in January that would halt for three years the deportation of any immigrant enrolled in DACA. That effort is considered a longshot.

A school district spokeswoman said DPS “worked with students to provide activities that allow their voices to be heard on campus,” but also made efforts to ensure the students who did walk out were safe. Denver police and district security officers were on hand for the march and rally.

At North High School, sophomore Viviana Chavez watched her math class shrink from 32 students to seven as her peers left for the rally. She did her part, joining other students in a second-floor lecture hall over lunch to make pro-DACA posters for a rally later that afternoon at a nearby park.

“I am here, trying to make as many posters as I can, but I can’t afford to walk out,” she said. “America is meant for people to come here to restart their lives. That’s how our country was founded.”

Seventeen-year-old Kandrick Pacheco Fluker, a senior at Denver Center for International Studies, said he’d never walked out of school before Tuesday. But he said the current political climate left him with little choice but to use whatever power he has to fight back.

“Donald Trump isn’t a joke anymore,” Pacheco Fluker said.

“He’s scary, but we’re showing we aren’t scared.”

Raise your voice

Memphis, what do you want in your next school superintendent?

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick for Chalkbeat

Tennessee’s largest school district needs a permanent leader. What kind of superintendent do you think Shelby County Schools should be looking for?

Now is the chance to raise your voice. The school board is in the thick of finalizing a national search and is taking bids from search firms. Board members say they want a leader to replace former superintendent Dorsey Hopson in place within 18 months. They have also said they want community input in the process, though board members haven’t specified what that will look like. In the interim, career Memphis educator Joris Ray is at the helm.

Let us know what you think is most important in the next superintendent.  Select responses will be published.

Asking the candidates

How to win over Northwest Side voters: Chicago aldermen candidates hone in on high school plans

PHOTO: Cassie Walker Burke / Chalkbeat Chicago
An audience member holds up a green sign showing support at a forum for Northwest side aldermanic candidates. The forum was sponsored by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

The residents filing into the auditorium of Sharon Christa McAuliffe Elementary School Friday wanted to know a few key things from the eager aldermanic candidates who were trying to win their vote.

People wanted to know which candidates would build up their shrinking open-enrollment high schools and attract more students to them.

They also wanted specifics on how the aldermen, if elected, would coax developers to build affordable housing units big enough for families, since in neighborhoods such as Logan Square and Hermosa, single young adults have moved in, rents have gone up, and some families have been pushed out.

As a result, some school enrollments have dropped.

Organized by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Friday’s event brought together candidates from six of the city’s most competitive aldermanic races. Thirteen candidates filled the stage, including some incumbents, such as Aldermen Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st  Ward), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward), and Milly Santiago (31st Ward).

They faced tough questions — drafted by community members and drawn at random from a hat — about bolstering high school enrollment, recruiting more small businesses, and paving the way for more affordable housing.

When the audience members agreed with their positions, they waved green cards, with pictures of meaty tacos. When they heard something they didn’t like, they held up red cards, with pictures of fake tacos.

Red cards weren’t raised much. But the green cards filled the air when candidates shared ideas for increasing the pull of area open-enrollment high schools by expanding dual-language programs and the rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Related: Can a program designed for British diplomats fix Chicago schools? 

“We want our schools to be dual language so people of color can keep their roots alive and keep their connections with their families,” said Rossana Rodriguez, a mother of a Chicago Public Schools’ preschooler and one of challengers to incumbent Deb Mell in the city’s 33rd Ward.  

Mell didn’t appear at the forum, but another candidate vying for that seat did: Katie Sieracki, who helps run a small business. Sieracki said she’d improve schools by building a stronger feeder system between the area’s elementary schools, which are mostly K-8, and the high schools.

“We need to build bridges between our local elementary schools and our high schools, getting buy-in from new parents in kindergarten to third grade, when parents are most engaged in their children’s education,” she said.

Sieracki said she’d also work to design an apprenticeship program that connects area high schools with small businesses.

Green cards also filled the air when candidates pledged to reroute tax dollars that are typically used for developer incentives for school improvement instead.

At the end of the forum, organizers asked the 13 candidates to pledge to vote against new tax increment financing plans unless that money went to schools. All 13 candidates verbally agreed.

Aldermen have limited authority over schools, but each of Chicago’s 50 ward representatives receives a $1.32 million annual slush fund that be used for ward improvements, such as playgrounds, and also can be directed to education needs. And “aldermanic privilege,” a longtime concept in Chicago, lets representatives give the thumbs up or down to developments like new charters or affordable housing units, which can affect school enrollment.

Related: 7 questions to ask your aldermanic candidates about schools

Aldermen can use their position to forge partnerships with organizations and companies that can provide extra support and investment to local schools.

A January poll showed that education was among the top three concerns of voters in Chicago’s municipal election. Several candidates for mayor have recently tried to position themselves as the best candidate for schools in TV ads.