New Mexico schools aim to ease immigrant student nerves

New Mexico schools aim to ease immigrant student nerves

(N.M.) As schools across the country report increases in bullying and harassment based on immigration status, Santa Fe Public Schools has announced a Student Support Helpline where families can access resources.

The hotline is just one part of a list of services district officials announced last week, and will allow students or parents to report bullying and harassment, as well as find information about counseling, behavioral health and other community services that can benefit vulnerable students.

Veronica Garcia, superintendent of Santa Fe Public Schools, noted that the district cannot provide legal advice, but can help direct families toward such information.

“For many, the 2016 election has been an extraordinarily emotional experience–people across our country and the world are excited about the presidential outcome, while others are feeling anxiety and fear,” Garcia wrote in a letter to parents and other stakeholders. “As a district we believe there is no place for hate and we will firmly discipline those who seek to intimidate, bully, harass, or create a school environment which might cause any student, employee or group to feel intimidated or ill-treated.”

Many who work with immigrant families have reported increased anxiety and fear among communities following the election of Donald Trump this month whose message calling for tougher immigration policies, including the construction of a wall on the country’s southern border, and mass deportation of those in the country illegally resonated with nearly half of voters.

Garcia explained that while there have been no reports of incidents of harassment in the schools in Santa Fe–one of a handful of sanctuary cities across the country–accounts of violence, discrimination and bullying against immigrants elsewhere prompted the district to roll out its own framework for a districtwide plan to ensure students feel safe and welcome.

She also reaffirmed that the district will not collect information regarding student immigration status or allow unlawful access to the students in the schools.

In addition to the student helpline, teachers and staff will receive professional development to help facilitate respectful conversations about highly emotionally charged issues, and the district will collaborate with community partners to create a weekly support group for immigrant students, their families and advocates to meet and share information.

The district will also form a Superintendent’s Equity Advisory Council to address issues faced by immigrants, as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender kids, Native Americans and special education students.

Also included in the plan is a possible reallocation of resources to provide an immigrant student support ombudsman for the district, as well as a call for principals to create ways for students to report issues of bullying or harassment in a manner that protects their own personal safety.

In a press conference Wednesday, Garcia said she hopes the community will be able to come together and find common ground – noting that the district will continue to celebrate its diverse student body.

“It is my belief that the institution of public education is the bedrock of our Democracy,” Garcia said. “I have every confidence that our school district and our community will demonstrate to our Nation that our diversity is our strength and it is our diversity that makes the United States of America one of the greatest nations in the world.” more