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School should be a safe haven and a sanctuary

Intergenerational Organizing Program, St. Stephen's Youth Programs

By Daisy Ogbesoyen, Juan de Leon, Nikkia Jean-Charles, Jaliyah Bacchus and Eliza Daniel-Hodges

As youth leaders with the Intergenerational Organizing Program at St. Stephen’s Youth Programs, we are concerned about recent news stories revealing that the Boston Public Schools (BPS) has shared student information with the Boston Police Department, which in turn shared this information with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Former BPS Superintendent Tommy Chang resigned in 2018, in part due to controversy over the deportation of a BPS student. According to Lawyers for Civil Rights in a Boston Globe article on Jan. 6, 2020, this practice continues. Between 2014-2018 there were 135 incident reports shared with ICE.

Why is this being allowed? We thought Mayor Marty Walsh promised that Boston would be a safe sanctuary for immigrants. It is not, and it makes students like us feel unsafe. School is very stressful as it is, and the fact that BPS is sharing information with ICE only makes it more stressful.

The first thing that is said to students at orientation on the first day of school is that there are counselors here for you. They are here to help you. But how can we trust any staff member like school administrators or counselors if they may be sharing information with the Boston Police Department and ICE? It makes you feel like you cannot open up to anyone, like you have no one to turn to.

This makes immigrant students feel alone and creates an additional burden to carry, even as we are doing homework, playing varsity sports or participating in afterschool clubs. Immigrants are transitioning to American culture. That’s hard enough. The threat of being ripped out of classrooms, held in a holding center and shipped back to a former, maybe unfamiliar, country is traumatizing. Immigrant students already struggling with mental health issues are not going to seek support if it feels unsafe. In addition, it makes immigrant students and students of color feel as though we are being stereotyped and targeted.

Teachers, staff and police officers should not be giving out immigration status for any student to ICE, even when there are disciplinary issues. When this happens, we feel betrayed by our public officials and school administrators, who have pledged to keep us safe.

Mayor Walsh has said that he supports immigrants and that Boston City Hall could be a sanctuary for immigrants, if needed. Yet, at the same time he has allowed this information-sharing between BPS, BPD and ICE to continue. Mayor Walsh, please stop this system of sharing information about students. We ask that you help keep families together and not allow situations where ICE tears a BPS family apart.

These are among the things that impact our minds and our education. The people feeling directly impacted are our families, friends and neighbors. We have asked the City of Boston and BPS to investigate what information has already been shared and communicate with families who are being targeted and may be at risk. 

And, going forward, we need a policy that includes the following:

• Cease information-sharing: Define clear guidelines for what qualifies as a legitimate use of an incident report and follow those guidelines. Records of school disciplinary matters should not end up in the hands of an ICE agent.

• Increase transparency and communication: Inform students and families before their information is shared with the Boston Police Department.

• Establish  oversight: Form a committee of students, BPS staff and community members, which will serve as a watchdog. Be sure there is a system of checks and balances that oversees these procedures at the school, district and community level. 

• Boost accountability and training: Train all Boston School Police officers and school administrators on these new protocols.

We will not allow BPS, the BPD and ICE to hurt our fellow students. Knowing that a student could be taken away from the school for a minor mistake and simply because they were not born in the United States, is wrong.

By sharing information with ICE, administrators of the Boston Public Schools are creating environments of fear that deportations will be allowed to happen. This is an injustice for all public school students and families and staff.