A dozen community activists assembled outside Andrews Elementary School in East Austin on Monday to demand the school district do more about Andrews' principal, who is accused of discriminating against immigrant parents.
The Austin Independent School District is investigating Gabbie Soto after parents and community organizers said she made comments against immigrants and changed the PTA board membership to remove people based on their immigration status. After the change in the PTA board, Soto posted a picture of the new leaders, along with a caption that included the words “Make Andrews Great Again.”
Soto, who became principal in January 2018, has been on leave since late March.
Ana Maria Rea, legislative affairs manager at the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, said what happened at Andrews is part of systemic oppression of immigrant families.
“This isn’t just about Andrews Elementary or Austin,” she said. “This is about all of us. And all of us have to take action and demand the same things from the district so this no longer takes place, because while all of us stand idle, things will continue to happen.”
Rea said parents, including immigrant parents, shouldn’t have to be afraid of people involved in their children’s education.
Speaking on behalf of the East Austin Schools Manifesto Coalition, civil rights attorney James Harrington said the group has four demands: a transparent investigation into the allegations to be conducted by a special committee of the district's board; Soto's immediate removal; a public apology to the parents of Andrews’ students from the AISD board president; and immediate support for parents at the school, including access to social workers and counselors.
Michelle Cavazos, chief officer for school leadership at AISD, said an investigation had been launched in the fall and that Soto’s employment status would depend on the results of that investigation.
“We do offer our sincere apology to the families and the Andrews community," she said. "The alleged actions do not reflect our beliefs and values as a district, and they’re unacceptable.”
Cavazos said there are no AISD policies to deny people from serving on the PTA because of their immigration status.
“We definitely want them as part of our PTA,” she said.
She echoed AISD's mantra: “In AISD, all are welcome.”