The “Welcoming Resolution” proposed to the DeKalb School District 428 Board on Tuesday may be well-intentioned, but the idea is better abandoned.
Usually a way to recognize positive developments such as individual or group achievements, and occasionally to create distance from condemnable things, such declarations typically have unanimous support.
But there were objections from some board members to this one, and reading the text, it’s easy to see why.
The proposed resolution starts off like others, but by the seventh “Whereas,” it takes a turn, noting that “federal immigration law enforcement activities, on or around CUSD 428 property ... have the potential to harmfully disrupt the learning environment.”
It continues that the district should “lawfully discourage, to the greatest extent permitted by law, disruptions to the learning environment that actions by Immigration and Customs Enforcement or immigration enforcement actions by other law enforcement personnel, may create.”
Board President Valerie Peņa-Hernandez told members that the resolution is about preserving immigrant students’ dignity and making sure they feel safe at school. When faced with objections from board members Jeromy Olson and Jeff Hallgren, she briefly left the meeting.
But the resolution, advanced at the behest of the advocacy group Welcoming Western Counties, makes federal customs agents out to be bogeymen. It’s an unfair characterization, one that inspires disdain for and fear of law enforcement.
It also seems like something of a fantasy story.
We know of no occasion where federal immigration authorities have sought to “round up” children at any American public school. A majority of the public would be appalled at such an operation, which could traumatize all students.
It’s also hard to envision a scenario in which the district would cooperate with an inquiry about students’ immigration status – state and federal law bars them from even asking about it. DeKalb’s public schools, like others around the state, have to enroll all school-aged children living within district boundaries without question.
Yet this resolution paints federal immigration authorities as potentially having children’s bus stops under surveillance, or seeking to interrogate or arrest them on school property. It would have the district board vow not to provide information it does not have to people who will not request it.
Although the district recently added a third DeKalb police officer to its schools, the resolution promises to “require a properly executed criminal warrant to justify any arrests, interviews, searches and surveillance, to the greatest extent possible, on school property.”
Would this apply to school resource officers, or only ICE agents?
This proposed resolution is unnecessarily divisive and should be abandoned. However, creating a welcoming environment for students of diverse backgrounds and ethnicities is a laudable goal. DeKalb is a multicultural community, and the best way to make its schools welcoming is through programs and initiatives that promote unity and understanding among students. There is broad community support for such efforts.
The district board should encourage those types of initiatives, and continue to work together to improve the district’s finances and educational progress.