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FCPS unveils ‘Trust Policy’ to prevent information sharing with ICE

Fairfax County School Board discusses a proposed “Trust Policy” at a work session (via FCPS/YouTube)

Fairfax County Public Schools is finalizing a new policy that will bar discrimination based on immigration or citizenship status and prohibit staff from disclosing that information unless required by law or a court order.

Requested by the school board last May, the proposed Trust Policy aligns closely with limits on information sharing by county government employees that the Board of Supervisors adopted in January 2021, FCPS staff said at a school board work session yesterday (Tuesday).

“The primary goal of the Trust Policy is to serve as a written commitment that our students and their families will be able to access services and benefits without being asked for immigration status or have information reported,” said Kathleen Walts, executive director of FCPS’ Office of Professional Learning and Family Engagement.

The policy states that Immigration and Customs Enforcement activities would disrupt FCPS’ commitment to providing a safe, inclusive environment for all of its students, who come from 199 different countries and speak over 200 different languages, according to a presentation.

Ricardy Anderson, who represents Mason District on the school board, said fear of immigration authorities prevented one student from completing an assignment that required them to discuss their background and family.

Springfield District Representative Laura Jane Cohen recalled families checking if there would be law enforcement or ICE officials at a meal distribution site during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“That was standing between folks having food for the weekend and not,” she said.

In addition to complying with court orders or law, the policy has exceptions for when an individual or guardian gives their permission to share information, when necessary for a student to obtain benefits, and for demographic data related to school program evaluations.

According to FCPS officials, many of the practices in the policy — such as obligations to protect student and employee confidentiality and acceptable documents for verifying students’ residency for registration — are already in place, but codifying them will ensure consistent regulations and enforcement across all schools.

The most significant change will be the establishment of “a very comprehensive training plan” for employees, Walts said. Officials said the Trust Policy will also be incorporated into training for school resource officers and volunteers.

The policy directs FCPS leaders to regularly review data collection practices, contracts, and other documents, including the memorandum of understanding with the Fairfax County Police Department for the SRO program.

“It’s much deeper than a communication tool,” Providence District Representative Karl Frisch said. “…It makes sure the sharing of information is much more closely monitored. It requires judicial warrants for any involvement with immigration officials. That’s a big change.”

The school board will introduce the Trust Policy as new business when it meets tomorrow (Thursday) before officially voting on April 28. Frisch said he and Anderson intend to propose requiring that the policy be implemented by the start of the upcoming school year in August.

“The reality is, for most of our students and parents, this changes nothing,” Sully District Representative Stella Pekarsky, who chairs the school board, said. “This impacts nothing, but for those that really need this, it’s a life-changer.”

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