Labor group, board members resist AISD’s immigration memorandum

After U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement conducted raids last week that resulted in the arrests of over 51 foreign nationals, Austin ISD’s legal team warned teachers and principals not to distribute immigration resources to students who have not been approved by the superintendent’s office.

The district’s advisory memorandum was sent out Feb. 13 and stated that its intention was to “address the limitations on Austin ISD’s teachers’ and staff’s political actions taken in our schools, on employee time, and/or using district resources in light of current state and national events.”

The memo noted that employee’s freedom of expression is not an “unfettered right,” and that the restriction “may be necessary to protecting [Austin ISD], its interests and its students.”

The memorandum also included a section that outlined the repercussions for AISD teachers and staff members who do not comply with the district’s mandate, stating that anyone determined to be “improperly using his or her position to engage in prohibited speech or expressions” would be subject to administrative and legal consequences.

Although the memorandum claimed that the district’s heightened scrutiny of its employees is due to its uniqueness as the district of the Texas Capitol, which is “known for being politically and socially active,” board members were confused by AISD’s message, which was not communicated to the district’s board of trustees before being published, according to Austin School Board Vice President Paul Saldaña.

In response to the district’s message, several members of the board affirmed their support for AISD’s students and their families, including Trustee Cindy Anderson, who promised via Facebook to address issues with the memorandum at Monday’s board meeting.

“It is important that our families and community know that we support ALL, regardless of immigration status, and that we are dedicated to providing information and resources to ensure that our families understand their rights, which include access to public education and to feel safe and secure,” Anderson wrote on her Facebook page.

Education Austin, a labor group for AISD employees, has also taken action to provide relevant information to students and their families about immigration and their individual rights. The organization has hosted several “Know Your Rights Trainings” and will continue to do so in the coming weeks.

They also maintain a website and Facebook page with resources, including meeting times, contact information and pamphlets with instructions on what to do if ICE comes to your door.

Education Austin President Ken Zarifis said that their primary goal is to provide information and that his organization has been “doing everything [they] can to get information out to people.”

“There’s not a political agenda. We want people to know their rights. We are educators. We educate people,” Zarifis said. “It is a moral imperative that we get this info out to people. If ICE knocks on your door, you don’t have to open it.”

Zarifis said he wants the district to frame students’ rights more in terms of what they can do rather than what they can’t do, calling it a “positive approach to people’s rights.”

He expressed his hope that the district will reevaluate its message at the board meeting on Feb. 20 and reaffirm their commitment to students’ well-being and safety.

“When you send out a legal form it becomes intimidating because of the jargon,” Zarifis said. “We simply want the board to come out and say your kids are safe.”