I was very proud the night in February 2017 when the San Jose Unified Board of Education passed a resolution in support of immigrant students and families.
The era of anxiety and fear currently being cultivated by the Trump administration had only just begun, and this resolution was a good step toward building greater trust between the district and our community. But I was also disappointed, because I believed the district could have gone further.
The resolution calls for safeguarding the privacy of all students and families—but only up to a point. It includes a provision for training school counselors to support immigrant students, but no trainings for teachers, bus drivers, nutritionists and other school employees who have direct contact with students every day. And it calls on the district to offer resources and referrals, but very little in terms of direct services.
This resolution is a Band-Aid on a broken leg.
In light of our state, county and city passing laws to protect immigrants from racist and xenophobic federal policies, San Jose Unified needs to step up and ensure that all of our students and families feel welcome and supported, both on and off campus. And we don’t need to reinvent the wheel to do it.
I recently came across this piece on EdSource, an education policy website, about programs being offered by Oakland Unified School District to support unaccompanied immigrant students. Their personal stories made me reflect on what San Jose Unified can and should do to truly engage on immigration and other issues that go beyond our schools but have an undeniable impact on our students and families, such as affordable housing, health care and food security.
Here are just a few ideas:
- The district should provide counseling and other services specific to the needs of immigrant students, particularly unaccompanied minors who lack a support system outside of school. This could “piggyback” on our successful McKinney-Vento program for homeless and foster youth.
- District leaders should be active participants in conversations with city, county, and state officials around coordinated strategies to protect immigrants in our community and make San Jose more affordable for working families.
- And the district should state with 100 percent clarity that we will never share the personal information of our students and families with any outside individual or agency. Period. Full stop.
Having worked in district administration until earlier this year, I can predict the refrain from staff in response to this call to action, and it goes something like, “We’d love to do this, but we don’t have the money.” (If this sounds familiar, it’s probably because you’ve heard it before in your own school board room.)
Sadly, it’s the truth.
San Jose Unified doesn’t have the money. But neither does Oakland Unified. They leveraged $5.2 million from Salesforce in addition to state and federal grants. I believe San Jose—the “Capital of Silicon Valley”—can match or exceed what Oakland was able to organize through corporate and community partnerships.
My point is that money should never stand in the way of doing what’s right, and I’m more interested in finding a path to saying “yes” than making excuses to say “no.”
As the cornerstone of community, schools and school districts have a moral obligation to serve as beacons of hope and security for the most vulnerable among us. If we bring all of our students, families, employees, and neighbors together around our common goals and aspirations, we can build a truly “Unified” district.
Peter Allen is a former public information officer for San Jose Unified School District and a candidate for San Jose Unified Board of Education in Trustee Area 2. Opinions are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Send op-ed pitches to [email protected].