Fairfax County Public Schools now has a new layer of protection for undocumented students and their families.
The Fairfax County School Board voted unanimously last night (Thursday) to prohibit employees from requesting, accessing, or disclosing information about a person’s citizenship or immigration status unless required by law or court order, or they get permission from the individual or a guardian.
The Trust Policy, as it has been named, also bars discrimination based on citizenship or immigration status by staff and students.
“For too many immigrant families, the trust has been broken,” Dr. Ricardy Anderson, the school board’s Mason District representative, said in a statement. “To regain their confidence, we must demonstrate in all that we do that we are in the business of education and nothing more. That is exactly what this policy does.”
Anderson joined with Providence District Representative Karl Frisch to propose the policy in May 2021 after the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved a similar measure that January for county government workers, including the police department.
When sharing the proposed policy earlier this month, FCPS officials told the school board that it largely codifies existing practices around restricting interactions with federal immigration authorities.
Turning those practices into policy, though, will help ensure consistency across the county, and FCPS can now put more detailed regulations in place for training and enforcement.
The school board directed Superintendent Scott Brabrand to implement as much of the Trust Policy possible in time for this year’s summer school programs, which are expected to draw 40,000 students, according to Mount Vernon Representative Karen Corbett-Sanders.
“This policy is one that we want to ensure everyone feels welcome and safe in the school environment, and waiting until the fall, it will become a disincentive for some families to send their children to summer school,” she said during the board meeting. “We want them to come to summer school, take advantage of all of the learning activities and the enrichment activities available to each of our students.”
Led by at-large member Abrar Omeish, the school board told FCPS to create guidelines for its human resources department by August on investigating and disciplining employees who violate the information-sharing ban.
While FCPS doesn’t have data on how many of its students are undocumented, the student body is about 20% English learners and has 199 birth countries represented, according to the school system.
According to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse Immigration Project, Fairfax County has 17,477 residents with pending immigration court cases — roughly twice as many as any other county in Virginia.
Members of CASA Virginia, one of several immigrant and civil rights organizations that advocated for the Trust Policy, told the school board before last night’s vote that they frequently worry about their kids’ safety and well-being at school.
Jose Rivera, who identified himself as the father of a 19-year-old high school student, said through a translator that immigrants like him came to the U.S. seeking a better future after experiencing violence or struggling to find economic opportunities in their home countries.
“We want safety in schools for our children,” Rivera said. “…[With] this policy, students will be able to focus on their studies and attend school without any stress and worry thinking their information may be shared with federal immigration officers. We do not want them to be at risk of deportation and separated from their families.”
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.”