From ACLU People Power Fairfax:
ACLU People Power Fairfax Applauds Fairfax School Board’s Action to Protect Immigrant Families
ACLU People Power Fairfax, an immigrant rights and police reform grassroots organization, applauds the School Board’s unanimous decision to draft a School Trust Policy aligned with the County Trust Policy. Our group and CASA, the largest immigration group in the area, worked with Board of Supervisor Chair Jeff McKay to develop the Trust Policy, which was approved by the BOS by a vote of 9-1. We were pleased to be able to work with Dr. Anderson and Mr. Frisch and other advocates on this important action.
The purpose of a School Trust Policy is to build trust among immigrant students and their families by making clear that the schools will not engage in voluntary cooperation by all Fairfax County agencies with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). It also will strictly protect the confidentiality of personal information such as names, addresses and date of birth that ICE can use to track down immigrants for deportation.
The BOS is not alone in moving to end voluntary cooperation with ICE. The Commonwealth’s Attorney recently adopted a trust policy as well. And in a related action, the General Assembly passed Delegate Kathy Tran’s HB2163 prohibiting sharing of undocumented drivers’ personal information for immigration enforcement purposes.
These policies of course prohibit direct disclosure to ICE of personal information unless otherwise required by law. In addition, because ICE takes advantage of privacy law deficiencies through data-mining of multiple public and quasi-public databases, the policies limit disclosure to other outside entities whose records could be accessed for immigration enforcement. Sensitive contact information may still be shared, but only when required to accomplish the agency’s mission.
Diane Burkley Alejandro, Lead Advocate for ACLU People Power Fairfax, stated: “It is essential to the well-being and educational success of immigrant students that the School Board align with the County by adopting a School Trust Policy, just as it did with One Fairfax. Although federal privacy law provides protection for student information, there are numerous exceptions that put immigrant families at risk. We applaud the School Board for recognizing that more must be done.”
Fairfax is the first locality in the Commonwealth to end voluntary cooperation with ICE and restrict information sharing. We believe the same would be true for the school policy. Numerous school districts throughout the country already have adopted non-cooperation policies and made schools “safe zones” from ICE enforcement.
ACLU People Power Fairfax is a grassroots organization that advocates for equal justice for all members of our community, including undocumented immigrants, regardless of race or ethnicity. To achieve this goal, we seek to end voluntary cooperation with ICE by local and state governments and to reform practices and policies that support systemic racism. There are over 4,000 People Power volunteers in Fairfax. Our efforts reflect the views of our members, not necessarily those of the ACLU Virginia affiliate.
For further information, visit us on Twitter @PeoplePowerFfx and Facebook @peoplepowerffx or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mr. Frisch’s statement can be found here:
FAIRFAX COUNTY, VA — Today, the Fairfax County School Board voted unanimously to develop a School Trust Policy aligning the school division with Fairfax County’s Trust Policy. Adopted in January, the County policy prohibits voluntary cooperation by all Fairfax County agencies with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The policies are designed to help build trust and confidence with immigrant families.
The proposal, sponsored by School Board members Dr. Ricardy Anderson (Mason District) and Karl Frisch (Providence District), was approved this morning at the Board’s monthly Forum discussion. The Board’s governance committee will now work with school division staff to develop the policy for adoption by the full Board in the near future.
“For too many immigrant families, the trust has been broken. To regain their confidence, we must demonstrate in all that we do that we are in the business of education and nothing more,” said Dr. Anderson, the School Board’s chair and Mason District representative. “The fear of being reported or deported is keeping families from accessing the critical resources that Fairfax County Public Schools provides — from meals and mental health services to parent workshops and academic opportunities for their children.”
“Even with our school system’s existing commitment to privacy protection, the need for a policy that rebuilds trust with immigrant families remains urgent,” said Frisch, the School Board’s Providence District representative. “Fairfax County took the necessary first step. Our school division will now join them by developing a policy that helps rebuild trust in our schools and keep families together — that is exactly what the School Trust Policy will do.”
The COVID-19 crisis and a recent CASA survey show Fairfax County has struggled to gain the immigrant community’s trust. Many fear that any contact with the police can lead to their deportation. But the community is equally concerned that information collected by the government could be accessed for civil immigration purposes.
There are about 750,000 undocumented school-aged children and another 5 million children living with unauthorized immigrant parents in the United States according to the Migration Policy Institute. Although the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) does not track immigration status, Legal Aid Justice Center notes that 27 percent of all Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) students in the 2019–20 school year were current or former English Learners.
The impact on students largely tracks that felt by the community at large. A former FCPS undocumented student told the School Board in July 2018 that he failed to report bullying and severe assaults due to fear that he would be reported to ICE. Studies by Stanford University and others show that concerns about information sharing by schools pose a significant barrier to educational success.
While the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) does maintain the confidentiality of student information, including immigration status, ICE can easily access information to locate undocumented students and their parents. The agency has exploited weaknesses in U.S. privacy laws with data-mining technologies run mainly by contractors that collect data without the same restrictions imposed on government data collection.