Virginia’s governor and superintendent of schools today announced new guidelines for how public schools should respond to President Donald J. Trump’s executive actions on immigration.
Although the president told reporters this morning that he is open to a compromise on immigration, he has in recent weeks directed law enforcement agencies to ramp up efforts to arrest and deport people who are in the country illegally.
That prompted several school system superintendents to ask for direction from Virginia’s Superintendent of Schools Steven R. Staples on the matter. Specifically, they asked what their obligations are if a students’ parents are detained.
With guidance from Attorney General Mark R. Herring’s office, Staples released a memo today that reiterates federal law that requires public schools educate K-12 students regardless of their immigration status, and to take active steps to guard the public education rights of students. Schools are prohibited from asking students’ immigration status.
He urged public schools to prepare for the potential that students’ guardians could be detained by ensuring emergency contact forms are up to date and include alternate contacts if the parents are unavailable or detained. He encouraged schools to develop a plan alongside local immigration advisors and county social services offices.
Staples stressed that schools have a legal responsibility to protect the privacy of student records, pursuant to Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
Charles B. Pyle, Virginia Department of Education’s director of communications, said the message to school leaders is to plan ahead.
“Dr. Staples is suggesting to division superintendents to think about this now and take the appropriate steps and have the conversations they need to have with the agencies in their community so they’re not scrambling to figure out a plan when they actually have a situation,” Pyle said.
Governor Terry McAuliffe said the president’s executive actions on immigration have led to fear and uncertainty in many of our communities. “So let me be clear: The Commonwealth will continue to be a welcoming place for all students and families, and my administration remains committed to honoring our constitutional obligation to provide each and every pupil with a free and high-quality public education, regardless of immigration status.”
He highlighted guidelines for Virginia’s 132 school divisions that reiterate their constitutional obligation to provide education to K-12 students regardless of their immigration status, and to take active steps to guard the public education rights of students.
“These guidelines outline the rights and responsibilities of our superintendents and school boards,” Secretary of Education Dietra Trent stated. “They also reinforce our responsibility to provide every single student enrolled in a public school access to a secure learning environment where they can learn, grow and thrive.”
The new guidelines are based on legal advice from the Attorney General’s Office.
“Every child in Virginia has the right to learn and grow in a safe, supporting school,” Herring stated. “I’m happy to help Governor McAuliffe, Secretary Trent, and Superintendent Staples take proactive steps to make sure our students and their families understand their rights, and our schools understand their responsibilities to their students and communities.”