April 08--DURHAM -- The Durham Association of Educators recently applauded the Durham Public Schools' effort to strengthen rules around sharing confidential student information with law enforcement organizations.
But the teacher organization said the school district's proposed policy and whether or not to allow law enforcement to access school sites without the superintendent's approval falls short in three important areas.
A proposed addition to the district's Policy 4321 (Investigations and Arrests by Law Enforcement) that would require any request by Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) for "information or to access a school site" to be forwarded to the superintendent for review received most of the attention.
The DAE said the policy addition should be broadened to include all law enforcement agencies, because local agencies sometimes perform the work of ICE as part of multi-agency task forces.
"If we intend to protect students at school, it is essential that the policy on approval of warrants include a broad definition of law enforcement that is not limited to ICE," said Tracey Barrett, a social studies teacher at City of Medicine Academy. "DPS should require warrants from all law enforcement agencies to be submitted for review before officers are allowed to surveil, interview, detain, or arrest our students."
Barrett, part of a DAE working group that approached the board in February with several recommendations to improve student confidentiality, made her remarks during a school board work session attended by a dozen or more Hispanic residents.
School board members and the board's attorney Ken Soo engaged in a robust discussion about whether the school district can completely prohibit law enforcement officers with valid warrants from entering a school to arrest a student.
While school administrators said it would be ideal if no arrests or police actions ever took place on DPS campuses, it is not always avoidable.
"There times when it is an emergency and we need to have law enforcement officers in our schools seeking out students who are a danger to students and our staff right away," said Superintendent Bert L'Homme.
Soo urged the board to meet with local law enforcement officials to discuss the proposed policy addition.
"These are some pretty important policy directions and they have some significant implications for the school district," Soo said. "You probably need more information from the law enforcement community about what the implication from their point of view might be for one stance or another."
The DAE group was disappointed that DPS' policy revisions didn't include its recommendation to the administration to compile a monthly report to present to the school board documenting how many warrants are served on school grounds and by which agencies.
"It is concerning that we don't have data on how often law enforcement officers serve warrants on to students in our school buildings," Barrett said.
The group is also concerned that DPS' policy revisions do not include specifics about training for staff regarding student protections and privacy.
"We firmly believe that if training for principals and front office staff in this new policy is to be meaningful and effective, it must be given in-person and in consultation with our working group," Barrett said.
L'Homme reminded the board that the school year is in its last quarter and that schools are gearing up for the next round of state testing.
He said it will take "some time" to provide training to all 4,500 district employees.
Monday's meeting was the first reading of the policy revisions.
The school board will take them up again after some tweaking, possibly after the spring break, which starts at the end of the work day Friday.
The board has also agreed to ask local law enforcement officials to participate in a community discussion to ensure DPS and the agencies have a meeting of the minds about how they will handle incidents involving warrants for students.
The proposed revisions come amid actions under President Donald Trump that have led to more arrests and deportations of those in the country illegally, regardless of whether they have committed serious crimes.
Durham Public Schools has, in part, blamed the nearly doubling of the number of Hispanic students dropping out of school last year on inflammatory rhetoric about immigration during the 2016 presidential campaign.
In addition to requiring any ICE request for "information or to access a school site" to be forwarded to the superintendent for review, proposed additions to Policy 4321 would also require:
-- Law enforcement officials to provide interpretation services when notifying and/or interviewing a limited English proficient student and/or parent/guardian.
-- Any request by ICE for information or to access a school site be immediately forwarded to the superintendent for review and a decision on whether to allow access to the site, and/or the information to ensure district compliance with students' constitutional right to attend school under the Supreme Court's decision in Plyler v. Doe and other applicable laws.
-- The superintendent to immediately notify the board of ICE requests.
The DAE group's recommendation also urged the board to require the DPS attorney to notify parents of warrants in their home language, require parents be notified when law enforcement agencies request student information and that law enforcement agents only question students in the presence of an attorney, parent or legal guardian.
As part of monthly reports to the board, the group asked DPS to document the number of warrants served on students and to list the agency from which they came, including those generated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The teachers also said training DPS staffers to teach them how to properly handle confidential student information is also important.
And they urged the board to prohibit all school personnel from sharing any student information unless a parent or the DPS attorney authorizes disclosure.
The district's review of Policy 4321 was prompted by the DAE working group, which presented to the board in February its document titled "Preserving the Sanctity of the Learning Environment," which outlined its recommendations for protecting student privacy.
Some of the recommendations are already covered under existing provisions in the policy and others are addressed in the proposed additions.
The DAE group also asked that DPS staff be given the freedom to discuss policy during the academic day and that students be informed about Miranda rights and other legal rights regarding interactions with law enforcement agents.
Greg Childress: 919-419-6645, @gchild6645
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