NORMAL — A document affirming the inclusion and protection of all students in McLean County Unit 5, including those from immigrant families, was examined at Wednesday night’s board meeting.
Unit 5 officials said the draft, modeled after the same declaration approved by Bloomington District 87 last month, was assembled after administrators were approached by teachers and students requesting a similar public declaration.
Several teachers and a student spoke to the board, urging them to approve the resolution at the Nov. 18 board meeting.
“This isn’t about politics. It’s about doing what’s best for kids and making our intentions very clear to say our schools are about learning and teaching,” said John Bierbaum, social studies teacher at Normal Community West High School.
The document says that under federal law no district may deny a child access to free public education on the basis of the child’s immigrant status.
It also states the district would not approve of educational disruptions caused by the presence of Immigrant and Customs Enforcement employees on Unit 5 property for the purpose of removing a student or their family or obtaining information about students.
If approved, the resolution also would bring comfort to immigrant teachers and district employees who may feel uneasy, Bierbaum said.
“The age requirement for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) is under 31 as of June 15, 2012. That’s me,” said Bierbaum. “I don’t fall in this category, but I could. It could be a teacher down the hall.”
Aditi Sharma, Normal Community High School freshman, said she spoke to the board on behalf of “a lot of students” as she voiced her approval of the resolution.
“Our school is a very diverse environment. We have students of all different religions and ethnicities. No one should feel scared or unsafe coming to school. Someone’s immigration status should not affect their right to education,” said Sharma.
As an immigrant from India, Sharma said she wants all of her peers to look forward to school the way she does.
“It’s even more crucial we have support of adults. It’s stronger when it comes from those who are in the position of authority,” she said.
Nearly every board member spoke in approval of the draft after the comments.
“Our district has built a culture of inclusion and welcoming and I appreciate this next step,” said board member Meta Mickens-Baker. “I appreciate that our policies do reflect our intent to be welcoming.”
Board member David Fortner said society should question its beliefs, which are “simply inherited or repeated from things we’ve heard from others, not opinions we’ve thought through.”
“Let’s love these children, regardless of who they are, where they’re from or any perceived wrongs or mistakes their parents might have made,” said Fortner.
Officials said the resolution will not change any specific policies or terms, but will act as a reminder to families and the community.