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BPS Board takes steps to protect immigrant students

Keith Cowan

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — The Bernalillo Public Schools Board of Education has boosted the district’s support for immigrant students with several new measures, including more explicit privacy protections.

The resolution passed unanimously with little discussion during Thursday’s board meeting.

Interim Superintendent Keith Cowan said Bernalillo Public Schools has not had any issues with immigration, but board members are being proactive.

“We wanted to refresh the policy and just really ensure, as a district, that we were making sure all of our students were protected by the law and that all of our students are treated with equality,” he said. “I commend the board for wanting to take a look at this policy and other policies that we have in place just to ensure that we are meeting the needs of all of our students as best we can.”

Bernalillo Public Schools already had a policy stating that all children within its boundaries have a right to educational services and benefits regardless of documentation. The new additions add more explicit protections for immigrant students:

• No school district staff can take any steps that would deny students access to education based on immigration status.

• The superintendent will review district record-keeping policies to make sure no data is collected on student immigration status or place of birth. Cowan said the district was not asking these questions, but the policy makes it explicit.

• The superintendent will tell district personnel that they should not report undocumented students to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and must refer any ICE requests to the superintendent “to ensure standards of a judicial warrant and get agent’s contact and badge information.”

• The superintendent will create a rapid response plan to help children whose parents or guardians have been detained or deported.

• Employees are allowed to discuss the district’s immigrant student policies during class time “provided the discussion is age-appropriate and does not promote political candidates or partisan activities.”

• District service providers, such as bus companies and community agencies, will be notified of the policies and required to follow them.

Cowan said the board crafted the language after reviewing resolutions from several other New Mexico districts.

Administrators across the state have discussed immigrant student protections this year.

Albuquerque Public Schools collaborated with organizers from Listo Nuevo México, a coalition of Latino groups, to disseminate information about its policies.

“There is a certain level of fear and anxiety that there might be increased deportations,” Katarina Sandoval, APS’ former associate superintendent for equity and access, told the Journal in January. “We just don’t know — the rhetoric is such that it’s unknown at this time.”

In February, the Bernalillo town council approved a resolution emphasizing that the community is “immigrant friendly.”

Cowan said he is happy with his district’s new student protections and hopes they can reassure families.

“We want to make sure that we are sending a message to our students that they are in a safe environment, that they are here to learn and we are looking out for their best interests,” Cowan said.