BRISTOL - As a White House decision looms on the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, which temporarily protects some undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as minors, any local undocumented students can rest easy knowing they are protected from government investigation at least while they are in school.
The Board of Education in June approved a new policy guaranteeing protection for undocumented students, which unanimously passed with bipartisan support.
“We took a version that was offered by CABE (Connecticut Association of Boards of Education) as the model, read through it, discussed it, and felt it would be appropriate to adopt it,” explained Pam Brisson, who at the time was district director of the office of teaching and learning.
Policy 5111.3 states that should a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) official contact a Bristol school about an undocumented student they will be referred to the superintendent who will ask to see the judicial warrant.
Deputy Superintendent Susan Moreau said the policy brings Bristol into compliance with the 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision Plyler vs. Doe, which allows all undocumented children who enter the United States to be educated without question.
“It also prevents the Immigration and Naturalization Service from requiring information about those children or their families,” she said. “This has been our practice all along but we did not have a policy that went along with it. Unless an agent comes in with a federal court subpoena, no information can be received from the school about a child who is undocumented or their family.”
Jeff Caggiano, Republican board member, said the policy was “hotly debated” in committee before being approved for the full board vote.
“I just have to commend the Policy Committee, they went through this very rigorously and stripped it down. There is no partisan, political meaning or anything in this policy, and it’s the right thing to do for students,” he said.
It’s a widely debated issue of national scope, said David Scott, a fellow board Republican who serves on the Policy Committee, “but the reality is this is protecting our children while they are on our school grounds. It helps our administration and teachers to understand what rights we have in terms of protecting our students. So while they are with us on school grounds people can take comfort in knowing the children are OK.”
Moreau said she doesn’t actually recall any incidents of ICE agents contacting Bristol schools, nor does she have any idea how many undocumented students might be here.
“We don’t track it specifically, so ‘Not very many’ is my answer,” she said. “That’s just based on my experience over time. Administrators used to call me and say ‘they’re here, they don’t have any birth certificate, they don’t have any documentation,’ and I would tell them ‘by federal law you have to register them.’”
Moreau recalled more than 20 years ago when she was a principal and she had her first undocumented child show up to be enrolled at the school.
“I actually didn’t know what the rule was then,” she said. “I called the State Department of Ed., and it was a very easy answer: we educate everyone who comes in our door in this country. The parents can worry about all their issues and the kids should not be harmed as a result of that.”
“The only piece of paper that matters is they have to have the proper immunizations,” she continued. “For the safety of everyone we can’t waive that, but the health district accommodates families who don’t have a physician or health insurance.”
Susan Corica can be reached at 860-973-1802 or firstname.lastname@example.org.