In the wake of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals' recent decision to uphold most of the state’s immigration enforcement legislation, Senate Bill 4, we renew our call for the San Antonio Independent School District to provide meaningful protections for our undocumented students and their families, and ask that our district make ensuring the safety of our most vulnerable community members its top priority.
On Tuesday, SAISD unveiled its new SB4 handbook. Unfortunately, it provides no meaningful protections for our undocumented community members.
While district leaders have celebrated this launch, we at the Abrazos Immigration Working Group feel that such celebration is premature. Since our formation by members of the San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel in January 2017, we’ve called for substantive measures to keep our communities safe, and we believe that such measures should form the basis of any celebration.
As one of only three Texas school districts to refuse to share its police use-of-force policies with researchers with the nonprofit public-interest justice center Texas Appleseed in 2011, we applaud the district’s move toward transparency in publishing the district police department’s policies in regards to SB4, and encourage Chief Jose Curiel and our district leaders to share all use-of-force policies, procedures, and data on police activities with the public.
But in the interest of our students, their families, and our communities, we must reject the simplistic narrative that by sharing these policies, SAISD is doing what is needed to protect its most vulnerable community members. In fact, by releasing such an incomplete handbook, SAISD risks setting a dangerous precedent for other districts throughout Texas. This "first" for SAISD may come at a real cost in terms of SB4 policy provisions in school districts across this state.
With our colleagues at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, the San Antonio Pro-Immigrant Coalition, and a broad coalition of groups working to support immigrant communities in Texas, we sent letters to the SAISD board of trustees and Curiel last week that outline our concerns.
Among the most pressing is that this handbook, and its glaring omissions, make clear that our students and their families are at risk of falling into the hands of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) should they be arrested or detained at or around our schools. There are real precedents for our concern. Across the country, students have already found themselves detained by ICE through contact with school law enforcement.
In the context of the rapid growth of for-profit immigration detention centers for undocumented migrants, the mass incarceration of people of color, and the expansion of immigration enforcement and deportation, we must situate campus policing within a broader conversation about justice for students and their families. As a community, we need to rethink the simplistic conception of school and community safety that frames our district policies, and reimagine it to account for the complexities of serving our diverse communities in a period of unprecedented state violence against immigrant populations in this country.
As schools around the country increasingly rely on police officers to provide protection, carry out suspicionless drug sweeps, and provide behavior support, many student discipline issues are being redefined as crimes.
Implicit in the decision to expose students to unnecessary encounters with police officers on a daily basis is the judgement that the violence of individual students toward one another is more of a threat to young people than the enormous system of mass incarceration in this country, and that the threat of teenagers fighting, misbehaving, or bringing drugs to school is greater than that posed by a system that will seek to incarcerate and deport them.
We call on SAISD to minimize the use of campus police in non-emergency situations in our schools, and for student discipline issues to be reclassified as outside the remit of campus police officers. SAISD should, in our view, immediately move to deemphasize criminal justice solutions to student discipline issues. Arrests, potentially leading to contact with San Antonio Police, and, by extension, ICE, should be a last resort at our campuses.
Such moves would be in keeping with the recommendations of SAISD’s Student Discipline Task Force which is working to transform our schools' approach to student discipline issues. SAISD will be piloting restorative practices as a major policy focus next year, and addressing the role of police in behavior management in our schools is a logical and important next step.
Further, we repeat our call for know-your-rights information to be provided to all students – a call we’ve made for more than a year – and ask, once again, that the district allow us time during professional development to train all teachers and support personnel on their rights and responsibilities when working with undocumented youth and community members.
Let’s challenge the status quo in SAISD by putting policies in place that protect our undocumented students and families. Then let’s hold a press conference to celebrate.