Palm Beach County Superintendent: Our Schools Are Safe Harbors From Raids

Mar 1, 2017

The Trump administration has expanded what the federal government considers grounds for deportation in recent weeks with raids in a half dozen states: ICE has already detained one Dreamer and picked up undocumented mothers and fathers without criminal records as quote “collateral” while searching for immigrants with felony records.

Public schools are weighing how to respond to shifts in federal immigration enforcement. Palm Beach County Superintendent Robert Avossa spoke with WLRN about his district’s preparations, and about talks with other superintendents from Boston to Charlotte and Baltimore.

ROBERT AVOSSA: We had a conference call to talk about how they’re dealing with issues around immigration and the fear that our families are facing. You know, I don’t want to downplay that, but I also feel confident in the leadership here in Palm Beach County. I’ve had numerous conversations with our sheriff,  Rick Bradshaw. He’s really committed to us that he will not cooperate and work with ICE on any sort of random type raids, and that our schools are safe harbors and safe harbors for our children.

WLRN: Do you feel now as though you will not have to confront a situation where you’d get a request directly from federal law enforcement to school staff? How would all that work?

If an agent were to come to the school with an arrest warrant or an order from the judge, we have no authority in that case. But we are not going to share directory information; we are not going to share general information. We don’t ask people about their immigration status—it’s actually against the law to ask that. We don’t know, and neither will we share information with any individual department unless we are required by law, and the school board stands with me on that here in Palm Beach County.

Many school districts have circulated internal memos to remind principals of guidelines and resources for addressing student and parent concerns around immigration. Here are recent memos sent to principals in Miami-Dade and Broward, respectively:

Short of a warrant, or short of an order of a judge, it sounds like the policy of the Palm Beach school district would be that there’s no way to access a school for immigration enforcement purposes.

That’s right. And we want to make sure parents send their kids to school every single day. Many of these kids are already behind because they’re learning the language, because they may not have the resources at home.

A handful of schools in Palm Beach County saw spikes in absences among Latino students during the recent "Day Without Immigrants" protests. In Chicago, the school district said more than 50,000 kids stayed home:

And I’m particularly tuned into this, you know, as an immigrant to this country myself [from Italy] — I was a naturalized citizen. As a child growing up and watching and dealing with a lot of the same language issues, parents that weren’t educated…I have a special interest in this group of students. Certainly I’m a law-abiding citizen and I've got to do everything I can to protect kids, but at the same time I've got to follow the law.