DPS’ privacy changes welcome commitment

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.

With a significant number of students who are immigrants or the children of immigrants, Durham Public Schools officials know there is widespread concern and fear among that group as the Trump administration has stepped up detentions and deportations.

There have been several high-profile deportation attempts involving students and parents. At times, schools have noted increases in absenteeism as local or national events have sparked worries. A traffic stop near a school aroused fears it was in some way related to Immigration and Custom Enforcement sweeps. It was not, but the public conversation surrounding it reflected the level of worry.

Last week, the Board of Education made another in a series of moves affirming the system’s support of its immigrant students. The board unanimously adopted policy revisions designed to protect student privacy and underscore the system’s intent to buffer its students from ICE enforcement.

Under the revised policy, if ICE or other law enforcement officers want to gather information, interview students or access a school, the superintendent must review and decide whether to honor the request. He or she would be required to notify the school board of the request. Principals must notify the superintendent’s office of any warrants served at schools, and the superintendent will maintain a record of those warrants.

If a student or parent with limited English skills is being interviewed by a law enforcement agency, that agency will be required to provide an interpreter.

DPS joins systems around the country similarly putting in place policies to help protect student privacy and address undocumented immigrants’ fears of being taken into custody by deportation officers at or en route to or from school. Nationwide, about one student in 14 has an unauthorized immigrant parent, according to a Pew Research Center cited by The Washington Post.

A frightened child doesn’t learn much.

Steven Staples, Virginia superintendent of public instruction

Steven Staples, Virginia’s superintendent of public instruction, undoubtedly spoke for administrators here and in many other areas. “Our goal is to get children in school and have them engage in learning,” Staples told the Post. “A frightened child doesn’t learn much.”

DPS’ policy revisions last week were another in a series of efforts to minimize such fears. In January, Superintendent Bert L’Homme issued a statement that said in part, “Our students are our students, wherever they come from, and we will oppose any policy preventing them from attending, learning and growing in our schools."

Riverside High School teacher Allison Swain, who was part of a working group helping the board revise its privacy policy, praised the changes. “It’s clear that DPS is committed to protecting all of our students’ right to an education,” she said after the board vote.

That commitment is welcome.