Baltimore area school superintendents call on governor to protect undocumented students

A coalition of Maryland superintendents representing large school districts is asking Gov. Larry Hogan and other elected leaders to protect the rights of undocumented students and their families.

In a letter to Hogan and legislators, the leaders of five of the largest school systems in the state said President Donald Trump’s recent announcement that he would discontinue the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as DACA, in six months is having a direct impact on 9,000 undocumented young people in the state.

“It is a direct threat to Maryland’s economic stability and safety, as it will strip students of their ability to work and drive legally, pay taxes, and pursue post-secondary opportunities,” states the letter states.

Gov. Hogan said last week that he “was opposed to the action that the president took.” His spokeswoman reiterated his position Tuesday.

"As Governor Hogan has consistently said, securing our borders must be a top priority, it’s an important issue of public safety and national security,” said Amelia Chasse. "However, focusing immigration efforts on children and young people, many of whom have never known another home and came to this country by no fault of their own, should not be where enforcement efforts are concentrated. Instead of targeting innocent kids, we should be targeting criminals.”

The letter signers were Sonja Santelises, CEO of Baltimore city schools, Michael Martirano, superintendent of Howard County schools, George Arlotta, superintendent of Anne Arundel county schools, Kevin Maxwell, superintendent of Prince George’s County schools, and Jack Smith, superintendent of Montgomery County schools.

Verletta White, the interim superintendent of Baltimore County schools, was the only large school district leader in the area not to sign the letter. But Mychael Dickerson, her chief of staff, said she supports the statement and has signed on to similar letters written by other groups of superintendents.

Schools are legally required to educate students regardless of their immigration status.

The letter to Hogan was initiated by Maxwell, who has a large immigrant population in his district. He said immigrant students and their families have been afraid to send their children to school since the start of the year and parents are afraid they might be arrested and deported if they come to school activities.

“It is impeding the ability we have to educate our children,” Maxwell said. “We believe our local leadership needs to step up and weigh in on this topic and try to resolve this issue.”

The superintendents’ letter was also addressed to Maryland General Assembly leaders and the state’s congressional representatives .

“We ask you to continue to uphold Maryland’s emphasis on the values of equity and opportunity by continuing support of the Maryland Dream Act, legislation that supports the education, lawful employment, and legal authorization of immigrant students to drive and was approved overwhelmingly by the voters of Maryland in a 2012 referendum,” it said.

In a related action, the Baltimore school board discussed Tuesday a resolution to designate the system as an “inclusive, safe and welcoming district for all students regardless of immigration status, religion, or country of origin.”

The resolution states that immigration enforcement activities are to be avoided on school grounds, and that the district will protect students’ confidential information. The board will vote on the measure Sept. 26.

Santelises said immigrant students are some of the most valuable members of the city schools community.

“We will do all we can to protect you,” she said at the board meeting.

Ashley Peña, the student member on the board, said city students should be able to focus on their education without worrying about themselves or their family members facing deportation.

“For a student to know their education is in jeopardy is something no one should go through,” she said.

liz.bowie@baltsun.com

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