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District plans for deported parents In case of raid, Garland ISD making sure no child left alone

Resource type: News

Dallas Morning News |

by STELLA M. CHáVEZ Garland school district officials want to be prepared in case federal authorities crack down on illegal immigrants. They aim to ensure that no student is left behind or with nowhere to go should Immigration and Customs Enforcement detain mom and dad. Beginning this school year, Garland ISD will ask all parents to list the names and phone numbers of six emergency contacts other than themselves. The district also is instructing employees on which district office to contact if a child is left parentless. The instructions order school officials not to allow a student to board a bus if a parent is detained or deported and no one else is available to take the child home. In the event of a raid, the plan also forbids the withdrawal of a student from school by anyone not on the emergency contact list. “We don’t anticipate large-scale raids here in our district because we don’t really have the industry [known for hiring illegal immigrants] that suggests this sort of thing will happen here,” said Shelly Hopkins, who oversees the district’s programs for students who aren’t fluent in English. “But we do want to support principals [in cases] where the legal guardian has been detained and deported.” A safe place to go About 43 percent of students in Garland ISD are Hispanic. No one knows what percentage of that total comes from families with members who are in the U.S. illegally. Congress’ inability to pass comprehensive immigration reform has intensified efforts by cities locally and nationally to address illegal immigration. It’s unclear how many school districts are preparing emergency plans like Garland ISD’s. Last fall, a report prepared by the Urban Institute and National Council of La Raza urged school districts to make sure children have a safe place to go in the event of a raid during school hours. It also urged districts to work with social service agencies and other organizations to develop strategies to reach out to parents and other caregivers. Principal’s experience Clyde Schilling, principal at South Gate Elementary School in Garland, said he knows of two cases in which parents of students of his have been detained. Neighbors took in the children temporarily. “This is relatively new to a lot of school districts,” Mr. Schilling said. “I don’t think it’s a topic of discussion at the lunch table, but as you imagine, it is very upsetting when it happens to any one of your students.” Carl Rusnok, spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Dallas, said his agency “bends over backwards” to determine whether people taken into custody have children. “We repeatedly ask them whether or not they are the sole caregivers for children,” Mr. Rusnok said. “If they are sole caregivers, a decision is made whether these people can be released or [are] going to have to be held. We go through extraordinary means to ensure children are not left home alone or left alone at school.” In June 2007, ICE detained 31 women who worked at Fossil Inc. in Garland. ICE released seven for humanitarian reasons because they had children at home. Those women were ordered to appear before a judge later. Mr. Rusnok said parents don’t always tell ICE agents that they have children. Sometimes, parents believe that they’re protecting their children by not telling ICE officials about them, he said. Mr. Schilling and others say the issue really hit home for them when they heard the superintendent of Dumas ISD speak at a conference. Larry Appel told audience members that he had to make sure every child had a place to sleep the night ICE raided a meatpacking plant in Cactus, a small town in the Texas Panhandle. He gathered students and staff in the gym and ordered dozens of pizzas for dinner. Mr. Schilling said that regardless of how anyone feels about illegal immigration, his responsibility is to his students. “So we know where they’re going and who they’re going home to,” he said. “That is our main objective – to keep our students safe.” *READ THE Garland ISD deportation response plan: