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SUHSD students and staff make plea for more protections for undocumented students

Last Wednesday, district administrators, teachers, and undocumented students lobbied for the Board of Trustees to implement a policy that would make it more difficult for school personnel to collaborate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This public comment session followed special recognitions from the Board for Greg Gruszynski, Kate Sheehan, and Jane Slater, for their work as staff advisers of the DREAM club, which helps expand educational opportunities for undocumented students, at their respective schools.

“¡Si lo intentamos, lo logramos!” exclaimed Superintendent Mary Streshly as she opened her recognition statements, echoing the slogans printed on the back of Sequoia DREAM club students’ shirts.

Streshly described these recognitions as “no brainer[s] due to the political climate,” referring to the administration’s recent termination of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program that protected undocumented youth from deportation.

Students from Sequoia and Woodside High Schools’ DREAM clubs then took the stand to ask the Board to implement a policy to prevent ICE officials from entering district campuses without the accompaniment of district personnel. All affirmed that fear of ICE and deportation at school was inhibiting their learning. Luz Abarca, an undocumented student at Woodside High School noted, “I would like to feel safe everywhere I go… I have done nothing but give back.”

“Please take a stand,” Maria Rodriguez urged the board. “School is supposed to be a safe place.”

M-A teacher Catherine Burton-Tillson was among the school staff to comment in support of a stricter ICE policy. She shared a story of a fireman coming into the classroom to check a fire extinguisher, and students becoming afraid because he was in uniform. “It makes my heart hurt as a parent and as a teacher,” she said.

Glenda Ortiz-Galán, the head counselor at East Palo Alto Academy, commented in an interview, “I have some students that are experiencing some mental health concerns; anxiety, panic, flu-like symptoms… that have been related to this fear [of deportation].”

Ortiz-Galán affirmed that preventing ICE from entering district campuses “would help alleviate some stress, where students would feel that if I’m at school I know that I’m protected, I’m safe here.”

Streshly emphasized that “In no way is the Board dragging its feet” and that they want to “bring forward the strongest possible policy that is legally upholdable.”

As the Board looks to finalize the district’s policy on ICE, the unified message from SUHSD teachers, administrators, and students in support of the undocumented community seems to ring true with the DREAM club’s motto: ¡Si lo intentamos, lo logramos! If we strive for it, we can achieve it!

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