Know exactly where you stand if you take action
All students have the right to a free public education in this country regardless of their immigration status. With new emphasis on immigration policy enforcement, students are understandably and justifiably anxious. It is essential that all schools provide a welcoming and supportive environment.
If you choose to be an educator-advocate for immigrant student rights, you must be mindful of the following legal parameters:
Protections are strongest when you engage in activism outside of work. Engagement in political discussions or activism outside of work is a protected activity provided it does not cause disruption at school. Educators should focus on advocacy for immigrant students, and not disparage or insult other students, parents, or co-workers in the process.
Protections applied to speech at work are limited. The First Amendment will not protect you from discipline for statements made in class or to students during normal work hours in the school building. Teachers discussing immigration as part of the curriculum should be protected so long as the discussion is age-appropriate and relevant to the course.
Engaging in protests at school may be prohibited. Open displays of activism at school, or the encouragement of student protests that involve civil disobedience or disruption of school, would be subject to possible disciplinary action.
Congress has criminalized the harboring of undocumented immigrants. If you provide shelter to students or their families knowing they are undocumented, you may face criminal consequences. The prevailing view is that criminal consequences only apply if your intent is to help the undocumented immigrants avoid deportation.
NEA’s Board of Directors has issued a policy to be shared with local boards of education interested in creating a safe zone for all students. It requires U.S. Immigrations Enforcement and Customs (ICE), or local law enforcement agencies acting on behalf of ICE, to adhere to the policy in order to access any school or school district property.
Find a safe zones resolution for your county here.