Austin School Board Moving Slowly on Immigrant Support Resolution
Jonathan Hernandez started attending Austin public schools when he was ten. He didn't speak any English when he started fifth grade at Andrews Elementary, but with the help of teachers in his bilingual classes, he was able to learn the language.
“During the eight years I was part of the AISD system, I was undocumented – undocumented and afraid. " Hernandez told the Austin School Board at its June 20 meeting. "And that my not-so-secret status was going to be revealed and my education and future was going to be over.”
Hernandez graduated as the Lanier High School valedictorian in 2010 with a full scholarship to UT Austin, and he's urged the board to show support for students like him.
“AISD’s mission is to provide a comprehensive educational experience that is high quality, challenging and inspires all students to make a positive contribution to society. All students – dreamers included," Hernandez said.
Hernandez was sharing his story with the Austin School Board, along with other members of Austin ISD's immigrant community. They presented the board with a draft resolution to sign in support of immigrant students and teachers. The request came after Crockett High School valedictorian Mayte Lara Ibarra tweeted that she was undocumented.
The tweet prompted a lot of discussion on social media. Many people showed their support and some shared their own undocumented status, but Ibarra also received a lot of criticism as others tweeted screenshots claiming they reported her to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
More than two months later, the district is still working on the draft. That’s partly because of summer vacation – not everyone was around to coordinate efforts – but also because some board members want to shorten the draft. At a school board Oversight Committee on Excellence, Equity and Inclusion meeting last month, Board Vice President Paul Saldana said he was frustrated things were moving slowly.
“There are people who are a part of our school system that we serve, [who] felt that the gradations at the end of year, at least for our immigrant community, ended in a negative note," Saldana said. "I think it would send a strong message to reassure our immigrant families and students.”
Since that meeting, Trustee Ann Teich is leading the discussion around the resolution. She says she supports the resolution, and that it has board support. But, she says, the board also realizes it doesn’t exist in a vacuum.
“Quite frankly, we’re in a political environment where to express support openly of undocumented residents, particularly students, it stirs up a lot of emotions in the opposite camp," Teich says. "We have an opposite camp that’s camped at the same legislature. I think there’s fear that if we’re too bold in stating our support, we’ll receive some opposition and that will thwart our attempts to get the funding system changed, that we get the testing system changed. So, it’s a delicate balance for a number of reasons.”
Teich says at this point, there’s no set timeline to bring the resolution back to the full school board for a vote. If the board does approve the resolution, it will be the first school district in Texas to sign a resolution in support of its immigrant students.