New York schools have historically been seedbeds of political dissent, but under the Trump administration, the classroom atmosphere has been more charged than ever. Kids wonder if Homeland Security will snatch up their parents at home while they’re in school. And teachers might take a little more care to make sure their trans student can use the right bathroom without getting bullied.
Educators and students took these anxieties to a Brooklyn rally last week led by grassroots student activists and the MORE United Federation of Teachers rank-and-file caucus, to urge New York City schools Chancellor Carmen Farina to strengthen schools’ existing “sanctuary” protections against interference by immigration authorities.
“For students who come from mixed-status families, there’s a lot of fear around deportation,” says Jennifer Queenan, a high-school teacher in Brooklyn. A recent Know Your Rights training organized at the school, she recalled, drew about 60 community members, mostly adults. Some perhaps had seen their child’s school as one of the few local institutions where they felt safe.
Although New York is a “sanctuary city”—meaning, authorities refrain from collecting information on immigration status or disclosing people’s status to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or other federal agencies—educators are pressing for more decisive protections for the school systems’ hundreds of thousands of immigrant youth, many with refugee and undocumented family members.
Advocates point to other school districts that have adopted stronger bans, including those in Pittsburgh and several California cities, barring ICE agents altogether, without prior government permission. In New York they want the chancellor’s office to determine ICE access rather than the current policy of giving discretion to the principal. (ICE generally avoids intruding on institutions like schools and churches, considered sensitive areas, though under Trump that precedent seems far from secure.)