This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
At the very moment that his nominee for education secretary testified before Congress, President-elect Donald Trump was also on the minds of families at a School District of Philadelphia forum. The topic wasn’t what Trump’s education policies would be, however, but rather his stance on immigration and border control.
Though no one mentioned Trump’s name at the District’s forum on diversity and inclusion, panelists repeatedly referenced the president-elect’s campaign rhetoric on illegal immigrants and assured immigrant families that their children would be safe at Philadelphia’s public schools.
"We want all students and their families to feel welcome and included," said Superintendent William Hite.
The School District does not inquire about students’ immigration status, said Karyn Lynch, the District’s chief of student support services, and therefore could not provide that information to federal authorities. Demographic data, meanwhile, is largely protected under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), said Lynch. When a parent expressed fears that her child might not be safe at school because he’s undocumented, Lynch and others assured her that immigration officials wouldn’t be able to march into schools and seize children without a warrant.
"I urge families all across Philadelphia to continue sending their children to school to receive the education and the opportunity they came to this country to receive," Lynch said.
School districts around the country — including those in Denver, Minneapolis, and Washington, D.C. — have reaffirmed publicly that they will not share student data with federal authorities, according to a recent article in Education Week. Philadelphia has taken no such step, but officials reiterated Tuesday that immigrant parents had nothing to fear.