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McHenry County school districts address student immigration concerns

Published: Wednesday, March 15, 2017 12:09 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, March 15, 2017 9:32 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Sarah Nader)
Sarah Nader - snader@shawmedia.com Intern Megan Cocker (center) works with Tanya Aquino (left) ,11, of McHenry and Alex Gutierres, 11, of McHenry after school Wednesday Feb. 1, 2017 at the Garden Quarter Neighborhood Resource Center in McHenry.

McHENRY – As President Donald Trump cracks down on immigration, McHenry County school districts are addressing student concerns on the topic.

Local school district officials have said administrative policies already are in place that would prevent federal immigration officers from accessing personal information about students and from being granted access on schools grounds without a warrant.

Some districts are taking additional steps to make sure students’ and parents’ concerns are addressed in the changing political climate.

“Students are concerned. Students are scared,” Algonquin-based Community Unit School District 300 Superintendent Fred Heid said. “I have emails from staff, or even parents contact me directly, that say my kid came home and started packing because they are scared immigration is going to come get them.”

Heid said the district will provide meetings for both parents and students that will address questions about immigration, nationalization and how any federal changes will affect their families either directly or indirectly.

“I do have students who are scared because they don’t know what the implications are for them or for their parents,” Heid said. “What students need to hear is what has changed since the last administration. … Maybe you know your parents aren’t documented to be here legally and you are worried. … There are a lot of valid questions and anxieties and frustrations that students may have.”

Chicago Public Schools recently made a statement that it would not allow federal immigration officers inside school doors without a search warrant. Heid said District 300 has similar policies in place.

“No one actually has to come out and state that policy,” he said. “None of us provide access to a student, whether that is to law enforcement or ICE, and that is based on Supreme Court challenges or other challenges. … What CPS did isn’t out of the ordinary. That has been in existence a long time.”

Heid said that his No. 1 concern is his students.

“My job isn’t to politicize public education,” he said. “My job is to address the needs of my students, and I think this is a clear demonstration of that.”

McHenry Community High School District 156 works closely with Garden Quarter Neighborhood Resource Center.

Amber Bowgren, assistant principal of the district’s west campus, sits on the board of directors and said that it is the school’s place to provide resources for families who may be affected by political changes, particularly because those changes might affect students’ ability to learn.

“I think what we know about learning is if they are spending every moment wondering if their parents are going to be there when they get home at night, they can’t concentrate on the duration of the school day,” she said. “Providing students and families with resources, we want to give them some sort of emotional relief. The fear is real, and we need to respond to that.”

She added that the district is consulting with a legal team to develop a more solid policy, and as of now, it is mandated that all student records are kept strictly confidential.

Garden Quarter Neighborhood Resource Center is a McHenry-based nonprofit organization that provides resources such as after-school programming, adult education and other translation and bilingual services to the community. Nearly 90 percent of the adults who come to the center are undocumented, agency officials previously told the Northwest Herald.

Executive Director Lupe Ortiz said that right now the most important thing is to figure out the best way to support school districts as they try to stand behind students and families.

“What I have seen most is informing social workers and teachers of the stress the kids might be facing,” she said. “I don’t think the kids might be expressing it as much as they could, so maybe the teachers aren’t as aware as much as they probably should be. We want Garden Quarter and the school administrators to shine light on the struggles these families might be facing.”

Ortiz said that the nonprofit is in the process of organizing an event to facilitate a deeper conversation.

“We are working on an event together with both school districts called the 2017 Latino community forum,” she said. “And that is where both the school districts and police department work together and really provide support for parents, and are there to answer questions and verbally provide support to them.”

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