River Forest Elementary School District 90 is poised to stand up and say that its schools are safe and inclusive places for children and families regardless of immigration status.
Board members, in mid-April, directed the administration to draft a resolution that would spell out their position in what has become a national conversation over the engagement of schools and municipalities in the enforcement of federal immigration laws.
The school board could vote to adopt the resolution as early as May 15, the date of their next regular meeting.
For some time, District 90 has been working on narrowing the achievement gap between white and minority students. District-created committees have been looking at how to make the system more inclusive and fairer.
In adopting this resolution – the first by a River Forest taxing district – District 90 is aligned with its mission and vision, said Anne Gottlieb, vice president of the board of education.
“We want to support access and opportunity for all students and support that in River Forest, that’s the goal and mission of the school district,” Gottlieb said. “We will work hard and try to address any obstacles in our policies and practices. This is just clarifying that everyone is welcome and protected.”
The school district should make a statement about what it values, said board member Stacey Williams, who along with school board President Ralph Martire brought the idea to district.
“It’s part of our strategic plan,” Williams told the board. “We should be living the things we say we value. One of them is inclusion, we value diversity.”
The resolution that the board may approve could mirror those adopted in March by Oak Park School District 97 and at Oak Park and River Forest High School District 200. Those declarations state that officials in their school systems are prohibited from asking about the immigration status of a student or parent unless required by a court order.
Both bar the use of district resources in the enforcement of federal immigration laws unless specifically required by federal, state or local law. District officials also would be barred from asking about any student’s or parent’s immigration status.
Plus, a resolution would state upfront that District 90 would not deny equal access to any services, educational or extracurricular opportunities on the basis of the student’s immigration status.
The document also will comply with federal and state law, especially as to how schools treat undocumented children. Board member Rich Moore pointed out a 1982 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Plyler v. Doe, that held that states cannot constitutionally deny students a free public education on account of their immigration status.
The district’s student population is 72.1 percent white, 6.7 percent black, 9.4 percent Hispanic and 5 percent Asian, according to the most recent district report card. District 90 students come from different countries and speak number of different languages in the home, District 90 Superintendent Ed Condon said.
Immigrants, Williams said, are an important part of the fabric of the district, and diversity makes the country – and the district – stronger.
“I don’t know the numbers [of undocumented students] in District 90, but even if there’s just one family, we need to take a stand,” Williams said. “They should feel safe in our buildings.”
The first institution in River Forest to take such a position was Dominican University, which in December reaffirmed its commitment to serve as a sanctuary campus for undocumented students.
While Gottlieb hopes the River Forest Village Board also will adopt a similar resolution, village officials have not committed to when it would be on an agenda. The question came up during the recent campaign for trustee, with Patty Henek, Tom Cargie and Respicio Vazquez all supporting it.
This winter, a group from Dominican University urged the village to take a stance, and only Trustee Mike Gibbs came out in opposition. How trustees Susan Conti and Carmela Corsini feel is uncertain. And if trustees are deadlocked, Village President Catherine Adduci would likely have to break a tie; she’s never taken a position publicly.
District 97, District 200 and the village of Oak Park all have adopted immigration-related ordinances or resolutions. Others include Chicago, the Chicago Public Schools, Evanston, Evanston Township High School District 202, Evanston/Skokie School District 65, Skokie, Berwyn, Maywood and Proviso Township High School District 209.