Following the county government’s lead, Fairfax County Public Schools will soon prohibit voluntary cooperation between staff and Immigration and Customs Enforcement after the school board voted unanimously on Tuesday (May 5) to create a “School Trust Policy.”
Fairfax County School Board members say the new policy will align with the Trust Policy that the county adopted in January, which prohibits employees from giving federal immigration authorities information about a person’s immigration or citizenship status unless required by law or court order.
With the vote, some board members will start working with FCPS staff to develop the policy for full adoption in the near future. According to the school board, the new policy will be designed to help build confidence with immigrant families.
“Even with our school system’s existing commitment to privacy protection, the need for a policy that rebuilds trust with immigrant families remains urgent,” Providence District School Board Representative Karl Frisch, who co-sponsored the measure, said. “Fairfax County took the necessary first step. Our school division will now join them by developing a policy that helps rebuild trust in our schools and keep families together — that is exactly what the School Trust Policy will do.”
Student information, including immigration status, is confidential under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, typically known by its acronym, FERPA. But advocates say ICE can easily access names, addresses, and birth dates to locate undocumented students and their parents.
“Because ICE takes advantage of privacy law deficiencies through data-mining of multiple public and quasi-public databases, the policies limit disclosure to other outside entities whose records could be accessed for immigration enforcement,” the immigrant rights group ACLU People Power Fairfax said. “Sensitive contact information may still be shared, but only when required to accomplish the agency’s mission.”
A recent survey from CASA, the largest immigrant advocacy group in the mid-Atlantic region, showed that Fairfax County has struggled to gain the immigrant community’s trust because members fear any contact with the police can lead to their deportation, Frisch says.
This fear keeps some families from accessing FCPS resources, such as meals, mental health services, parent workshops, and academic opportunities, according to School Board Chair and Mason District Representative Ricardy Anderson, who joined Frisch in proposing the Trust Policy.
“To regain their confidence, we must demonstrate in all that we do that we are in the business of education and nothing more,” she said.
But the magnitude of the problem in FCPS is not easy to measure, as the Virginia Department of Education does not track immigration status.
What the school division does know is that, during the 2019-20 school year, nearly 27% of all students last fall were English Learners, and Frisch says that in 2018, a former FCPS student who was undocumented told the board that he did not report incidents of bullying and assaults because he feared being reported to ICE.
The forthcoming School Trust Policy will be essential to immigrant students’ educational success and general well-being, ACLU People Power Fairfax Lead Advocate Diane Burkley Alejandro says.
“Although federal privacy law provides protection for student information, there are numerous exceptions that put immigrant families at risk,” she said. “We applaud the School Board for recognizing that more must be done.”
Fairfax County employees are now prohibited from providing information about a person’s immigration or citizenship status to federal immigration authorities unless required by law or court order.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted 9-1 to adopt the new Public Trust and Confidentiality Policy yesterday (Tuesday) as part of a board matter introduced by Chairman Jeff McKay, Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust, and Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik.
While Fairfax County has long maintained that it does not assist Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) unless mandated, McKay, Foust, and Palchik say the need to turn those guidelines into a formal policy has been heightened the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disproportionately affected local Latino communities in particular.
“While there are no known instances of General County employees voluntarily sharing information about a resident’s immigration status, such policies are no doubt critical steps forward in building community trust and transparency,” the board matter said. “They also help quell fear in our community and ensure everyone feels comfortable getting the assistance they need from local government.”
The immigrant rights groups ACLU People Power Fairfax and CASA hailed the trust policy as “a major victory” after a four-year campaign urging Fairfax County to bar agencies from voluntarily disclosing information to ICE.
Advocates have argued that information-sharing with ICE can undermine public safety, as fear of detention or deportation discourages immigrants from reporting crimes, seeking medical attention, going to school, accessing basic needs assistance, and utilizing other critical local government services.
CASA says Fairfax County’s new policy is the first of its kind in Virginia.
“For four years, we have marched, spoken out and stood up for our rights as immigrants, and now we can finally breathe easier,” Luis Aguilar, CASA’s Virginia state director, said. “We are grateful for the leadership of Chairman McKay and Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, who stood strongly in support of immigrant families by voting through this critical county policy change.” Read More
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Programming Note — For those of you used to seeing Morning Notes on this site, or on our sister sites of ARLnow and Reston Now, we’re changing things up a bit here. Instead of a daily post, we will now be doing a once-weekly roundup of Tysons, McLean, Vienna and Falls Church-related items in the news since last Friday.
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Black Ice Warning This Morning — From Fairfax County Fire and Rescue: “Be careful walking out your front door as well. Please also walk with caution on sidewalks and parking lots.” [Twitter]
Cybersecurity CEO Gives Up Salary — Moe Jafari, the CEO of Tysons-based cybersecurity company and government contractor Human Touch, has given up his salary to save money during the government shutdown. [WUSA 9]
Fairfax ICE Arrests Higher Than Some States — “More than 12,000 Fairfax County residents are facing deportation proceedings, surpassing the number of cases in other major localities, including Manhattan, N.Y., and Philadelphia, Pa., and even states like North Carolina and Louisiana, a new report says.” [Fairfax Times]
Officials: Avoid Va. Travel Today — If you had been planning on driving to parts of central, western or southern Virginia today, VDOT and Virginia State Police want you to consider delaying your travel due to snowy conditions. [VDOT, InsideNova]
Hedgehogs May Be Legalized in Fairfax — “Chinchillas, hedgehogs and hermit crabs are one step closer to legalized pet status in Fairfax County. The Fairfax County Planning Commission [on Thursday] approved changing the definition of commonly accepted pets to include all three.” [Reston Now]