The Oak Park and River Forest High School District 200 school board is exploring ways to push back against recent executive orders issued by President Donald Trump that some say target ethnic, racial and sexual minorities.
At a Feb. 23 regular meeting, board members laid the groundwork for the likely passage of a welcoming community resolution, which would empower the district to provide “as much protection as we can” to vulnerable student populations “while still complying with the law,” said board President Jeff Weissglass.
The board also plans to address the president’s recent executive action that revoked a measure implemented by President Barack Obama, which empowers public schools to allow transgender students to use whatever bathrooms they choose.
District 200 Superintendent Dr. Joylynn Pruitt-Adams said that there are already policies in place that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion and sexual orientation. For instance, the district is already prohibited by law from asking about students’ immigration status during the enrollment process.
But there is currently no clear procedures that would instruct district officials on how to conduct themselves if an agent from U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement showed up at the high school one day.
In addition, said board member Jennifer Cassell, not all district employees have sufficient training to deal with any fallout that may come in the wake of the president’s immigration policies.
Pruitt-Adams said that the district has reviewed the village of Oak Park’s welcoming ordinance, which was unanimously approved by the village’s Board of Trustees earlier this month. She said district officials also reviewed resolutions from elementary and high school districts in Evanston, Chicago and San Francisco.
Earlier this month, Trump called for the mass deportation of people living in the country illegally who have been convicted of, or charged with, crimes or who pose risks to the public safety. He also for federal funding to be cut from local governments that defy his federal immigration orders.
During the Feb. 23 meeting, Tod Altenburg, the district’s chief business official, said that roughly 2 percent of the district’s budget comes from federal funding, with most of that related to Title 1 dollars that are set aside for programs dedicated to low-income students. That amounts to around $1.3 million, he said.
During Thursday’s meeting, numerous community leaders from Oak Park and other suburbs expressed support for the measure.
“The political framework in which we are all operating right now leaves a lot of uncertainty and [presents] safety issues,” said Claudia Medina, a Proviso Township High Schools District 209 board member who also sits on the board of the social justice nonprofit PASO (West Suburban Action Project).
“The National Guard and the police [are] starting to look at who is a criminal and who isn’t a criminal and, unfortunately, the populations that are being targeted currently are Muslims, LGBT and Latino populations,” she said.
Medina said that District 209 recently passed a welcoming resolution similar to the one that the OPRF board may vote on. As a member of PASO, she also helped draft a bill put forth by state Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch (D-7th), whose district covers a portion of River Forest.
That bill, called HB 426, would require the state to provide training to public school employees on immigration issues and to develop plans to assist people who are concerned about the federal government’s enforcement efforts, among other requirements.
The board directed administration officials and the district’s legal counsel to do more research on the matter before reconvening a discussion about the proposed resolution on March 14.