In Partnership with The 74

Ignoring the Trump in the room, LAUSD declares its schools ‘safe zones’

Mike Szymanski | November 17, 2016



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Board members George McKenna and Mónica García at Tuesday’s board meeting.

Never uttering the word “Trump,” the LA Unified school board held a day’s worth of board meetings Tuesday that delicately reflected the anxieties of their constituents and a general upheaval of emotions in the education system over the past week since the election results.

Then, they doubled-down by unanimously passing a resolution declaring that they would not cooperate in any federal roundup of undocumented families.

The resolution, called “In the Pursuit of Life, Liberty and Happiness: Embracing Education as a Pillar to Democratic Progress,” was co-sponsored by Mónica García and board President Steve Zimmer, who are often at odds, and who are the only ones running for re-election on the seven-member board.

The resolution doesn’t even mention the president-elect by name, but it reaffirms the district’s commitment “to continue to protect the data and identities of any student, family member, or school employee who may be adversely affected by any future policies or executive action that results in the collection of any personally identifiable information to the fullest extent provided by the law.”

Every board member had a few items to toss into the resolution. Monica Ratliff, who was leaving for an evening neighborhood council meeting she was scheduled to speak at, wanted each school site to have some autonomy in how to celebrate a proposed “day of understanding across LAUSD which will encourage students, families, staff and community partners to explore student and individual rights, the history of civics and coalition building, as well as the struggle to make progress in light of adversity, empowering and recognizing the importance of student leadership and activism.”

George McKenna, the only African-American on the board, wanted to make sure that the school board was not putting school principals in danger of getting arrested if federal agents were to come to their campuses.

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“I don’t believe we have the authority to resist that if the feds come on campus, and we don’t want any staff member to be arrested,” McKenna said.

But the second-largest school district in the country that is responsible for 665,000 children and is 74 percent Latino is aware of its clout, and they plan to send a letter to the president-elect signed by the superintendent, the school board and any students, families, staff and community members who want to add their names.

Donald Trump has vowed to deport immigrants who are not documented and threatened to defund what he termed “sanctuary” cities and schools. The Los Angeles police and school police chiefs say they have no plans to cooperate or be involved in any federal raids or investigations. LA Unified has a policy against asking a student’s immigration status, or that of a student’s family, so there are no statistics of how many undocumented students there are in the district.

UTLA, the teachers union, plans to reach out to families beginning Dec. 1 in Spanish media to address fears over immigration status and deportation concerns.

SEIU Local 99 Executive Director Max Arias, whose union covers cafeteria workers, janitors, bus drivers and special education workers said, “By adopting this resolution, the school board sends a strong message of support and reassurance to our students, our families and our communities.”

Arias added, “Children cannot learn when they are scared or anxious or uncertain about their family’s future.”

Superintendent Michelle King noted there are suggestions available for families on the school’s website gathered in a section called Post-Election Resources on how to talk to children after the election. “We are constantly adding to it and uploading what is helpful from other districts,” King said.

To soothe fears, King recorded a robocall sent to all homes saying, “Although it has been nearly a week since the presidential election, we understand that many students remain concerned about the outcome and want their voices to be heard. These are important conversations that need to take place. Our schools are utilizing assemblies, classroom dialogues, open-mike activities and our restorative justice programs to provide a secure forum for our students. However, it is also critical that students not allow their sentiments to derail their education.”

She asked that parents encourage children to follow the law and remain on campus, unlike the demonstration that took place on Monday where a few hundred students marched off campus.

King and Zimmer said they stopped in at the School Enrollment Placement and Assessment Center on the morning after the election to see how staff members were dealing with concerns from families.

Zimmer related some dramatic stories that he and King heard first-hand from families, such as a mother who was held at a deportation center with her children on the Texas border, and an unaccompanied minor who was coming in from Guatemala.

“My office is flooded by teachers and counselors expressing the anxieties and concerns from the families they serve,” Zimmer said. “We will address them with our front line services and intervention teams. We have to take care of ourselves and others.”

Kicking off the discussion of the resolution, board member García showed a protest music video that students from Stevenson Middle School created with the Black Eyed Peas and said, “There are many conversations that are taking place among our young leaders and employees and brother and sisters, and there are those who are filled with questions. We welcome that, and today’s resolution is affirming and confirming we are in solidarity with young people and employees and families in this most important message. Education is the way.”

“On Wednesday morning, the superintendent and I listened to children and heard things that shook us deeply,” Zimmer said. “It is important for us to realize amongst our students and their families, amongst our school employees and school families, there is real anxiety and real fear and we all have an important role to play to make sure that if every child who is scared was our child, our son, our daughter, our brother or sister, our niece or nephew, we would make sure they knew they were loved and were safe and we believe in them and will protect them.”

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Moved by Zimmer’s talk, board member Ref Rodriguez added: “Ditto.”

McKenna also avoided using Trump’s name but told his personal dramatic history of growing up in the segregated Deep South not able to swim in the same pools or drink out of the same drinking fountains and sitting at the back of the bus.

“I went to bed early Tuesday because I thought I was dreaming, and I thought I would wake up Wednesday from this dream, but it was the same condition,” McKenna said. “I’m a product of the supremacy of the South.”

McKenna added, “I can live only so much with the sanitization of people after they have told you who they are. We hear how people told us who they are. … Both political parties tried to stop him. He is off a TV show, like a cartoon I grew up with, Pepe Le Pew the skunk who is chasing a little kitty and kissing it, but we made him the Lion King.”

McKenna said he is not afraid and added, “I’ve been feeling left out and disappointed. Let us commence to unify and struggle to do the best. The only public institution larger than us is the state of California. We are bigger than the city or the county. We have influence in Sacramento, and nationally and globally, and many of our people were born throughout the world. … We are the ones that are leading, and this is not the end.”

McKenna received applause and the resolution passed unanimously.

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