Not so fast, Durham schools to tell feds on immigration cases

The Durham Board of Education on Thursday, June 15, approved revisions to district policy designed to better protect student privacy and due process rights.
The Durham Board of Education on Thursday, June 15, approved revisions to district policy designed to better protect student privacy and due process rights.

The Durham Public Schools Board of Education on Thursday, June 15, unanimously approved revisions to school policy that are intended to better protect student privacy.

The revisions to Policy 4321-Investigations and Arrests by Law Enforcement strengthen rules around sharing confidential student information with law enforcement agencies in the wake of several high-profile cases in Durham involving immigrant students who faced deportation.

The Durham Association of Educators (DAE), which asked the board in February to consider the policy changes, gave them the thumbs up Thursday.

“It’s clear that DPS is committed to protecting all of our students’ right to an education, and I think that DPS can be a model in the state and the country,” said Allison Swaim, a Riverside High School teacher and member of the DAE working group.

Under the revisions, the superintendent must review and decide whether to honor any request from a law enforcement officer or federal agency such as Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) to gather information, interview students or be allowed access to a school site.

The superintendent is also required to notify the school board of any such request.

In addition, the revisions require law enforcement officials to provide interpretation services when students or parents with limited English skills are being interviewed or notified about a law enforcement agency’s request for confidential student information.

And principals must now notify the superintendent’s office of warrants served at school and the superintendent must maintain a record of all such warrants.

In April, the DAE group applauded the school board’s efforts to strengthen the policy but said it fell short in some areas, particularly around the issue of allowing information and site access to ICE officers or other law enforcement officers performing immigration enforcement.

School board Chairman Mike Lee said the improvements to the policy were important work.

“The more I talk to families, the more I hear from families about this, the more important it becomes and I think we can lead the way from here in letting other districts know how this is how we protect our students,” Lee said.

Lee wondered whether the records the superintendent is required to maintain of warrants served on campuses are public records.

Superintendent Bert L’Homme said the number of warrants served would be public record but that any record created by the school district containing sensitive, private student information would not be considered public information under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

The DAE’s request came at at time when immigrants were on high alert in the wake of President Donald Trump’s stepped-up immigration enforcement that led to more arrests and deportations of those in the country illegally.

DPS staffers also shared information Thursday about required training for school and district personnel on the revised policy and FERPA.

Greg Childress: 919-419-6645, @gchild6645