After at least 51 undocumented immigrants were arrested in Austin and San Antonio last Thursday and Friday, part of a broad and controversial raid by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents in at least six states, some students in Austin started staying home from school out of fear of what could happen to them or their families. A local teachers' organization, Education Austin, started providing its members with information for students on immigration lawyers and what to do if ICE agents question them or come to their doors. But on Tuesday, the Austin Independent School District told teachers and other public school employees to stop it.
Teachers, school administrators, and staff "may not speak to political affiliation, views, protests, advocacy, or other controversial issues or topics that may arise while on district property," said a memo sent around from the Austin ISD legal counsel, warning that state legislators are watching. "Austin ISD is unique in that it is the district of the Texas capital and is known for being politically and socially active; therefore its activities, statements, and reactions are immensely scrutinized," the memo cautioned. "This increased oversight that is not experienced by all school districts emphasizes the need and importance for district employees to be meticulous and very calculated in their actions and responses to controversial events."
The Austin School Board was not informed about the memo beforehand, according to board vice president Paul Saldana, and it's not pleased. The memo is "in a direct contradiction to what I thought we were committed to as a district," he told local NPR station KUT. "I'm quite taken back and very surprised with the conservative tone of the memorandum." Education Austin also objected and said it will seek its own legal opinion. Letting students know their legal rights "is not political, it is not agitational, it is informational," said Education Austin President Ken Zarifis. "Families need to know where to turn, what they can do because most don't know. It's a learning opportunity. We're schools. Let's teach." You can learn more in the report from local NBC station KXAN below. Peter Weber