September 24, 2017

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Librarians Providing Safe Havens as Deportation Fears Loom

Schools are frequently called upon to be safe havens. Caring and determined faculty, staff, and administrators do everything in their power to keep students safe, happy, and healthy while they are in school, and to send them out into the world equipped to meet its many challenges. This is why the recent executive orders pertaining to immigration, and the subsequent expanding of deportation regulations, have hit school communities particularly hard. But the news has not just stirred up fear and worry, it has also spurred many schools and districts to take action. (Learn more about the executive orders from the Department of Homeland Security and its memos on deportation, explained here by NPR).

Annie McCullough, an elementary school librarian in San Marcos, CA, describes the feeling in her school as anxious and stressed. Discussion of how best to calm and address students who are worried about their families has consumed the two most recent staff meetings. Some students in McCullough’s building are reluctant to come to school, for fear that their parents will be taken away while they are gone.

A display Jennifer Colby put up in her school lobby to encourage acceptance

A display Jennifer Colby put up in her school lobby to encourage acceptance

Jennifer Colby, the librarian at Huron High School in Ann Arbor, MI, says her school community is “very concerned and aware about the safety and feeling of belonging” among their students who are immigrants, as well as their students of different nationalities. Huron High School has a large number of students whose parents have come from all over the world to teach and study at the University of Michigan. At Huron, they are not only concerned for students affected by deportation worries but also for all of their students who feel unwelcome and marginalized in the current political climate.

In order to address the worries and danger to students, these school communities are taking action at both the classroom and district level. At Huron High School, Colby posted a pledge of solidarity in the library that students and staff were encouraged to sign. The pledge was promoted by the organization People Against Xenophobia, founded by Huron alum and current University of Michigan student Hani Ehlor. Colby also created a library display of books and resources that celebrate the diversity of their school population, a step many of the other librarians in Ann Arbor have taken as well.

A later display made by Colby to promote social justice.

A later display made by Colby to promote social justice

Jessica Freeser, the English as a second language (ESL) coordinator for Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS), describes the feeling in her community as “anxious and uncertain.” Indianapolis has a growing international population large enough to warrant the creation of its Newcomer School, which opened this year and is dedicated to helping students and families who have just arrived in the United States to succeed and thrive. Freeser’s department has been working tirelessly to educate the ESL staff on the facts surrounding the executive orders in an effort to be the best resource possible for the families they work with. Freeser and her colleagues aim to equip their students and parents with the tools and information they need to advocate for themselves and be safe.

In San Marcos, where McCullough says “tears flow, anger comes to the surface, and hard questions are asked,” they are doing everything they can to keep the message positive and empowering. They aim to ease students’ anxieties by focusing on the good in the world. This has involved charity projects, seeking out role models who triumphed over adversity, and hanging inspirational quotes around campus that “lift spirits and encourage.”

Indianapolis Public Schools, Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS), and the San Marcos Unified School District (SMUSD) have all issued statements and resolutions of support and protection for their student populations, as have many others around the nation. The SMUSD resolution, “For the Advocacy and Protection of All Students,” declares not just to maintain policies that protect students but to work with local, state, and federal lawmakers to continue the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals act and to maintain schools as protected areas wherein students and families cannot be detained or deported.

The resolution from Indianapolis declares that “IPS will remain a safe and welcoming place for all students and families regardless of immigration status.” It goes on to confirm that IPS will continue policies already in place, including not requiring enrolling students to provide Social Security numbers and refraining from inquiring after student and parent immigration statuses. In Ann Arbor, superintendent of schools Jeanice Swift issued a district-wide statement of support for all AAPS students, in conjunction with a resolution from the school board. In her statement, she directs families to resources AAPS has gathered for refugee and immigrant families, and acknowledges that “each of our 17,448 students brings a unique and beautiful presence to our classrooms.”

These resolutions are more than words. They act as an invisible shield, protecting the teachers and administrators in those districts and allowing them to do what’s best for their students, with the assurance that their community stands behind them. McCullough sums up her appreciation, saying, “Because our district has stepped up and issued a statement, we all have a common goal and feel more unified and supported.”

 

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