By Brad Swanson:
The Fairfax County School Board endorsed a new policy Thursday that limits the role of police officers in schools and that restricts, but does not completely bar, cooperation with federal immigration authorities.
The board heard moving pleas from Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) students and former students to prohibit immigration agents from entering school grounds or obtaining information about students and their families from the school system.
Rodrigo Velasquez received a standing ovation from the audience after recounting his experience as a 10th grader at Robert E. Lee High School. He said he was repeatedly physically abused but afraid to tell authorities because he feared deportation as an undocumented immigrant.
Velasquez said he still bears the scars, both emotionally and physically, from the abuse. He said, “There are students like me right now who are too scared to come forward” for fear they will be turned over to immigration authorities. He urged the school board to cease all cooperation with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
In fact, the new policy governing the placement of armed police officers in all public middle and high schools requires that FCPS legal counsel review any request by ICE for information or assistance in seizing students or their families. FCPS Division Counsel John Foster said that ICE requests for assistance would be examined on a case by case basis. Several school board members said that cooperation should only be offered in criminal investigations.
But according to ACLU People Power spokesperson Diane Alejandro, who appeared before the board, the new policy does not go far enough.
Alejandro, who is a lawyer with the grassroots movement sponsored by the ACLU, pointed out that ICE has no authority to compel state and local authorities to provide assistance or information. She urged that police officers in schools, called School Resource Officers (SROs), be prohibited from sharing any information with ICE in the absence of a criminal warrant issued by a court.
Most school board members praised the new policy, while conceding that its drafting had been rushed, leaving too little time for review and community input.
The major revisions in the new policy include:
— Eliminating the practice of “stop and frisk”
— Removing references to SRO role in “cultural and social influences”
— More generally, clarifying that SROs are responsible for safety and security only, not discipline.
Some community groups like NAACP had argued that data showed SROs in Fairfax public schools arrested minority students disproportionately. They maintain that focusing SROs narrowly on major criminal and emergency situations should reduce the scope for discrimination.
With all 12 members present, the school board approved the policy with 10 yes votes. Ryan McElveen abstained, saying the drafting and review process had been too cursory. Also abstaining was Elizabeth Schultz, who questioned the rationale for bringing the policy to the board. She said the policy should be the responsibility of the staff, not the board.
The policy, which has the support of Fairfax County Police Department, will next be voted on by the county Board of Supervisors, which is expected to approve. Following this, it will be implemented with the start of the new school year on August 28.
Brad Swanson is the editor of The Blue View. He is an international investment manager and previously worked as a diplomat and journalist. He is a member of Hunter Mill District Democratic Committee.