By Karen Keys-Gamarra:
No parent should ever have to fear that sending a child to school is risking immigration enforcement. In fact, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the federal agency better known as ICE, has no place in Fairfax County public schools.
This view is reflected in the revised agreement between the Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) and the Fairfax County Police Department regarding the placement and activities of police officers, called School Resource Officers (SROs), in middle and high schools in our county.
The agreement, formally called a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), was extensively revised this summer after review by a panel of community leaders, and takes effect with the opening of school on Aug. 28.
In my opinion, it contains strong new protections from ICE for our students, as well as enhanced training for SROs and a clear distinction between discipline issues, which are the responsibility of FCPS, and criminal matters, which are dealt with by SROs.
As a school board member, I sat at the dais during hearings on the MOU draft and heard the passionate advocacy of our community members. I was moved not just by their words but by the concern for our students and community.
I believe the new MOU reflects those concerns. In particular, it makes it clear that SROs are not agents of ICE and cannot participate in requests by ICE for assistance in enforcing an administrative warrant.
Let me explain: Many students and parents are unaware that ICE by itself can only issue warrants that are administrative in nature. ICE cannot issue a criminal warrant – that can only be done by a state court or federal judge.
Under the new MOU, SROs and FCPS will not enforce an administrative warrant from ICE. Only if a warrant is validly issued by a state court or federal judge in connection with an alleged crime will FCPS and SROs lend assistance.
Another fear in the community is that FCPS will share information about students with ICE. Many of us on the School Board share that concern. That is why we adopted a follow on motion to protect sensitive student information and have instructed Supt. Scott Brabrand to review the current process and provide recommendations to improve this protection by April 2019.
Overall, I think that the revised MOU, approved by the School Board on July 26, while not perfect, has made many improvements to the previous situation.
In addition to the protections regarding ICE just mentioned, School Board members deleted language referring to cultural conflicts. Also, SROs cannot be involved in the administrative discipline process. Officers must also receive student specific training on implicit bias, disability awareness, crisis intervention training, restorative justice techniques and cultural competency.
FCPS school property represents a sacred trust between parents, students, our community and the school system. When a student enters our doors, we must all know that our students will be in a safe, caring, culture that focuses on education and not on immigration enforcement. I know that I, as well as many of my fellow School Board members, am committed to the work of ensuring and upholding that trust.
Karen Keys-Gamarra is an at-large School Board member. She is an attorney who practices family law and serves as a guardian ad litem representing the best interests of children.