By BRIDGET TURCOTTE
LYNN — The School Committee adopted a policy to protect students from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
“It would be bad if we turned our backs on these kids,” said Oscar Ross, who has a daughter in Lynn Public Schools who dreams of being both a police officer and a cook. “If we don’t give them the chance to be what they want to be.”
Mary Sweeney, a retired teacher, said that during her career, students had to worry about getting their homework done.
“I never faced situations of kids being deeply afraid,” said Sweeney. “I think with the issues of immigration and ICE — it’s a reality.”
The panel voted unanimously to adopt a policy that affirms the schools are safe and welcoming sanctuaries for all students, regardless of their immigration status. The document said the resolutions are intended to ensure that all Lynn Public Schools students have the same right to a free, public education and will be treated equally.
“The mission of Lynn Public Schools is to maintain a multicultural school community dedicated to the realization of the full intellectual, physical, social and emotional potential of its students,” reads the resolution. “The city is enriched and strengthened by its diverse cultural heritage, multinational population, and welcoming attitude toward newcomers.”
Committee member John Ford pointed out that while he agreed with where the resolutions were coming from, he believed they were only reaffirming what the district already does. Superintendent Dr. Catherine Latham agreed.
“I believe we have welcoming schools and that our teachers are wonderful and welcoming,” said Latham. “We have not had a case where ICE has come into our schools.”
She added that she believes ICE is restricted from taking immigrants into custody at schools and churches.
“Rather than us saying we already do that, we’ll be able to say that we have a policy for that,” said committee member Donna Coppola. “I think it would be a huge reassurance to our students. Let’s be upfront and be what we are — a proud community — and show others that we care.”
Latham and committee members expressed concerns about a resolution included in the original draft that prohibited federal immigration law enforcement officers, or personnel assisting them, from entering a school building.
“I worry about training teachers not to allow law enforcement to come into the building,” she said.
Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy added that she was “very uncomfortable” with the section of the resolution because it should be recognized that federal law supersedes local law.
“It seems to me that it’s not a valid exercise of a city’s rights in the presence of federal government,” she said.
The panel amended the resolution to state that law enforcement can enter the building, but must remain in the main office until his or her credentials are verified and the superintendent is notified. The vote will be subject to final approval of the language.
Under the policy, the district will not inquire about, record, or request information intended to reveal the immigration status of a student or their family members. They will not disclose private information without parental consent, and staff will refuse to share all voluntary information with immigration agencies to the fullest extent permissible by the law.
All requests for information from a student’s education record will be immediately forwarded to the School Department’s attorney. The motion also noted that the district does not ask for immigration status when families register children for school.
A letter will be sent to parents and staff summarizing the resolutions in simple language. A list of all available resources, including community-based organizations and legal service organizations, will be provided to each student and made available at each school. It will be translated when necessary. Teachers will be trained on the policy before the start of the school year, when they become familiarized with all other policies.
In the next 90 days, Latham will be expected to develop a plan for training teachers, administrators and other staff on the new policy and best practices for ensuring the wellbeing of students, who may be affected by immigration enforcement actions. The plan will be implemented within five months.Legis
A copy of the resolution will be submitted to the Massachusetts Attorney General and to Lynn’s federal, state, and local legislative representatives.
Bridget Turcotte can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte.