This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The calls West High School teacher Valerie Gates receives from worried parents are coming more and more frequently.
The callers wonder whether it's safe to send their undocumented children to school, Gates said, terrified that that day is the day their boys and girls will be deported.
"I talk to [parents] every day, and when I say send them to school, am I telling them the right thing?" Gates asked Tuesday at a Salt Lake City School District Board of Education meeting. "Can I truly protect them when they come to school?"
Gates spoke in favor of a resolution presented to the district Tuesday by advocacy group Unidad Inmigrante, urging officials to maintain the privacy of students' citizenship records and to demand warrants for any Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) actions carried out on school grounds.
About 100 people attended the meeting Tuesday night as board members heard public testimony about the group's resolution, which the elected officials did not take action on.
"We do want you in school," said board President Heather Bennett. "We will take this resolution under advisement."
Several people testified about the fear they and their undocumented peers feel in today's political climate.
Tiara Willie watches her peers at Highland High School struggle through classes every day.
"Their mind is focused on this rather than their school assignments," she said. "They're often worried about the worst-case scenario. ... I'm frustrated for my peers."
Gates says she sees it among her students all too often. The students "are beside themselves with worry," Gates said. "There can be no learning when students are afraid. Students come to school in fear, and parents are fearful to send their students to school."
The group's resolution calls for ICE representatives to inform district officials seven days before they want to come to schools, so emotional support can be provided to students. Student privacy laws would need to be upheld, the resolution states, and families of students subject to federal inquiry would need to be immediately notified by district officials.
The resolution also calls on the district to put in place a "rapid-response team" to prepare services for students who find themselves without adult supervision because of federal immigration action.
Ez Cortez-Trujillo, a student at Innovations Early College High School, said that team would be incredibly helpful to students who fear their loved ones will be taken away from them.
"School should be a sanctuary, a home away from home, a place that we can call a safe haven, but now it seems many of us fear the same place that is supposed to help us and make our future brighter," Cortez-Trujillo said. "I'm asking you not only to open your hearts but to open your minds, for we fear and we want to seek asylum in the same place that's supposed to help us."
Bennett said this week that the school district has not been contacted by ICE representatives, but administrators would insist on seeing a warrant before allowing immigration agents to enter school property.
Bennett also said that schools do not collect information on the documentation status of students and that current policy likely covers the issues addressed in the resolution. But she added that those policies have not been tested, so there may be cause to review and update school district procedure.
Last year, the school district and the Salt Lake City Police Department settled a lawsuit stemming from a 2010 roundup of West High School students who were questioned regarding gang affiliation. Terms of the settlement included an end to police "gang sweeps" and the reformation of school district policies regarding the treatment and discipline of students of color.