IPS shows way on immigrant students

Between Betsy DeVos in Washington and tight-fisted legislators in Indianapolis, you’d think the education news is all bad. It’s not. And we can thank the Indianapolis Public Schools board for that.

The IPS Board of School Commissioners voted unanimously last week for a resolution expressing support for immigrant students, regardless of whether they and their parents are in the country with proper documents. It’s not just a feel-good statement. The resolution commits IPS to a policy of not asking about students’ immigration status. And it reminds IPS staff that they should not help with immigration enforcement “unless legally required and authorized to do so by the superintendent.”

This is an example that every school board in Indiana should follow. And boards in other states too.

It doesn’t matter whom you voted for in last year’s elections or what you think of immigration as a policy issue. Most children of immigrants are here through no choice of their own. A 1982 Supreme Court decision guarantees them a right to education. Schools have a moral obligation to welcome them.

While schools generally don’t collect information on immigration status, it’s a safe bet that immigrant families are well represented in IPS and other Indianapolis school districts. A quarter of IPS students are Hispanic, according to Indiana Department of Education data. Warren, Pike and Lawrence township schools have a similar share of Hispanic students. Twenty percent of students in Perry Township are Asian; the south-side district is home to many immigrants and refugees from Burma.

And it’s not just urban schools. In Indiana, Hispanic students account for nearly half the enrollment in Frankfort public schools, almost 40 percent in Logansport and 25 percent in Seymour.

Melinda D. Anderson writes this week in The Atlantic about how an increase in immigrant students and English Language Learners is challenging some districts in the Washington, D.C., suburbs. In Indiana, schools in Munster and Highland, suburban communities in the northwestern corner of the state, have seen their Hispanic enrollment more than double in the past decade.

But even a district with only a handful of immigrant students – or none at all – should be following IPS’ example. Anti-immigrant rhetoric, stepped-up legal enforcement and increased deportations are causing real fear for immigrants and their children. A school district’s first responsibility should be to its students. This is the time to show it.

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