Union’s BOE passes resolution to protect students

UNION, NJ — The Union Board of Education has passed a resolution affirming its commitment to ensure an education for all its students regardless of their immigration status.

The resolution, passed April 25, will serve to ensure that information about its students will remain confidential and safe from Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers.

“The township of Union Board of Education recognizes the unique ethnic, racial and cultural diversity of our school district and celebrates this diversity,” reads the resolution, noting that approximately 28 percent of township residents are foreign-born.

The figure is based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2011-2015 American Community Survey.

“The School District of the Township of Union has a well-settled obligation under the Constitution of the United States to provide a free and appropriate public education to all school-age children without regard to their immigration status or their family members’ immigration status,” the resolution reads. “The board has adopted a series of policies to ensure that all school-age children in the district receive a free and appropriate public education and equal educational opportunity.”

The resolution also takes note of “historical and recent rhetoric targeting immigrant communities, ethnic groups and religious populations,” that the school district “is committed to ensuring that the climate in district schools is welcoming for all students and their families,” and that “the board will protect student confidentiality and will not share private information unless required by law or a court order, and we expect all persons employed by and in the Township of Union School District to protect student privacy and confidentiality as well.”

The resolution states that although the district administration will comply with all legal obligations, it will refrain from voluntary cooperation beyond those limits.

Union’s Board of Education president, Ron McDowell, told LocalSource in an April 26 email that the fact that 28 percent of residents in the township are foreign-born makes it even more imperative to pass such a resolution.

“I was actually surprised by that number and had no idea it was that high,” McDowell said. “With that in mind, it became very important that the board demonstrate our advocacy for our school children and reassure everyone that our only interest is their education, not their immigration status.”

According to McDowell, the impetus for the resolution was the result of information brought to the attention of some board members by a member of the public.

“It was shared with us that at least two other communities had issued this type of resolution,” McDowell said.

Both the school districts of Elizabeth and South Orange/Maplewood have passed similar resolutions.

“The purpose for our resolution is to reassure all the citizens of the township of Union that a student’s immigration status is not an issue the Board of Education is concerned about,” McDowell said. “As it was stated in paragraph three of our resolution, we are obligated ‘to provide a free and appropriate education to all school-age children without regard to their immigration status or their family members’ immigration status,’ and that is our only objective.”

Union Mayor Suzette Cavadas lauded the resolution.
“I commend the Board of Education on ensuring that our residents are aware of their unwavering commitment to our youth,” Cavadas told LocalSource in an April 28 email. “It is a shame that because of the national climate, we find ourselves having to reaffirm our commitment to an issue that is more than a right, but an issue mandated by the U.S. government.”

McDowell touched on rhetoric coming from the nation’s administration in recent months.

“With the recent rhetoric targeting immigration communities,” he said, “it is important to the board that we reaffirm and reassure our residents, and especially our children, that our schools are safe havens, that the information in our school files is confidential and will remain so unless required by law or a court order.”