A handful of Austin district principals, after receiving an email from legal counsel, on Tuesday prohibited teachers or other campus staff from distributing materials to students detailing what to do if immigration enforcement officials show up at their homes or try to question them.
In a memo sent to principals Monday night, the district’s attorney spelled out limitations for educators:
“An employee, staff member, teacher, or administrator may not speak to political affiliation, views, protests, advocacy or other controversial issues or topics that may arise while on district property, whether that is in a classroom or in an administrative building, working as a district employee, or using district resources.”
The attorney also wrote that the same restrictions apply to district partner organizations, usually on campuses daily, such as Communities in Schools and Family Resource Centers.
Teachers at several campuses last week provided such information to students, as word spread of an immigration enforcement operation in Austin. Labor group Education Austin provided its 3,000 members with the various documents, including a United We Dream flier titled “What to do if ICE comes to your door,” referring to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Education Austin also hosted two “Know Your Rights” training sessions on immigration laws on Saturday that drew 250 educators.
Education Austin leaders disputed the legal advice of the school district’s attorneys, calling it a conservative interpretation of the law. The labor group plans to seek its own legal guidance on the issue. Preventing teachers from providing “information that supports their students,” only causes harm, said Ken Zarifis, president of Education Austin.
Some immigrant parents withheld their children from school in recent days out of fear they, their children or family members may be detained by immigration enforcement officials. The labor group has been distributing information that says immigration enforcement actions generally do not occur at “sensitive locations,” including schools, unless someone poses an imminent threat.
“It’s real simple. Students are in crisis,” Zarifis said. “Where the students will turn to first outside of their household is their teacher and their school. If we don’t provide the information to them, we’re doing them a disservice. We believe it is a moral imperative to share this information with the families throughout this school district. We are still hopeful that the district will see this imperative and assist their families with knowledge and information. They need to be armed with the knowledge that will give them options and choices of what to do and how to protect their family.”
Pamphlets and fliers that had been placed in some campus offices were removed Monday and Tuesday, Zarifis said.
“They took any information down and told teachers not to disseminate information,” he said. “You have principals who are afraid because they’re being given a directive, even if they want to get information out.”