AUSTIN (KXAN) — Monday night, the Austin Independent School District board of trustees unanimously approved an immigration resolution.
The statement makes it clear AISD classrooms are safe places and the district supports all families regardless of immigration status (see full resolution below).
“We still have a lot of work to do to reassure our families that coming to school is safe,” said Trustee Paul Saldana, who said it is a step in the right direction.
He’s been pushing the the superintendent to take a tougher stance on the issue after raising concerns last week about a memo the AISD legal office sent to all staff. It outlined the district’s policy on the limitations placed on teachers and staff when it comes to political actions regarding “current state and national events.”
Saldana called the letter an intimidation tactic that caused anxiety among teachers and students. Some felt like they were being threatened with legal action or could lose their jobs over their responses and ICE information being handed out to students.
Two days before the letter went out, the AISD’s teachers’ union Education Austin held a Saturday information session for teachers on how to respond to students and families asking questions about deportation, and what to do if Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents show up at their door.
Prior to the special board meeting Monday, Dr. Paul Cruz held a press conference to address the letter for the first time. “Sometimes it comes out in different ways, and the message doesn’t come across as it was intended,” said Cruz.
He said the letter was an answer to questions coming up from teachers asking what type of information is appropriate to share with students. In hindsight, Cruz said the memo should have been more specific in addressing what to do, and what not to do.
When asked why it took so long to address the media about the concerns, Cruz said his top priority was talking face-to-face with principals, which he did first thing Wednesday morning. On Friday, he says he met with all parent support specialists to hear their questions and concerns.
“It’s about talking to the group that brings it up,” said Cruz. “To ask them questions and it really is trying to understand this area that’s new and different for school districts and certainly for Austin.”
Saldana would like to see the administration offer even more clarification for teachers when it comes to interacting with students and families about immigration issues.
“There’s still a lot of gray areas about what they can and cannot do, and if we expect the teachers to do their job in the classroom then they need to have a little bit more clear guidance of what is acceptable and what isn’t.”
On Thursday of last week, more than 20,000 AISD students were absent on a day hailed as “A Day Without Immigrants.” The day before there were 4,216 students absent across the district.