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How Should Schools Respond to the Concerns of Undocumented Families?

School districts around the nation have passed resolutions vowing to do everything they can to protect undocumented students. Now, a University of Missouri researcher examines how individual schools can meet the needs of students and families when the threat of deportation or detainment hit close to home.

Through interviews of school leaders, employees, and residents in a northern California neighborhood, assistant professor Emily Crawford-Rossi looked at how staff addressed the panic and fear that gripped the families amid rumors that Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were casing the surrounding neighborhood.

The principal at the school, a English-Spanish dual-language-immersion program where close to 90 percent of the students are Latino, provided the opportunity for community members to receive legal counsel on immigration matters and quickly addressed the uncertainty for students and parents head-on, helping to allay fears and restore calm in the neighborhood.

"Laws do not tell leaders how to assess the impact that federal immigration authorities will have on a school, students, or families, or how to handle the aftermath of an ICE visit," wrote Crawford-Rossi, an assistant professor in the university's College of Education and the Truman School of Public Affairs. "Educators ... saw firsthand how federal immigration policy can intersect powerfully and unexpectedly with day-to-day schooling at the local level."

Amid the Trump administration's crackdown on illegal immigration, the report has heightened relevance for educators, many of whom are scrambling to assure frightened refugee and immigrant students that their schools should be safe places.

The March arrest of an undocumented immigrant who was dropping off his daugther at school sent shockwaves through immigrant communities across the country.

To help students and ensure their rights, Crawford-Rossi suggests that school staff should brush up on the rights of immigrants, especially those established in Plyler v. Doe, the 1982 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that declared children are entitled to receive a free public K-12 education in the United States regardless of their immigration status.

Crawford-Rossi found that even in a school where educators were able to quickly and effectively address student and family concerns, many educators didn't know all the rights immigrant students and their families have, including the fact that schools are prohibited from asking students about their immigration status.

"Broadly speaking, all educators want to do their best to serve students no matters what their backgrounds are," Crawford-Rossi said in an interview with Education Week. "They don't know about the Plyler v. Doe decision ... they're not quite sure if their district has a policy."

Here's a toll-free link to the study, "The Ethic of Community and Incorporating Immigrant Concerns into Ethical School Leadership," which was published in Educational Administration Quarterly: http://journals.sagepub.com/stoken/default+domain/10.1177/0013161X16687005/full

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