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Schools told to uphold immigrant rights amid crackdown

Last week, state officials rushed to the defense of transgender students.

This week, it's students who are immigrants.

The offices of the State Education Department and Attorney General sent a letter advising districts about their duty to uphold the rights of immigrant children to attend public school in New York, now that both agencies have begun fielding questions about how schools should handle the Trump administration's crackdown on undocumented immigrants.

"Our schools must be places where all students can learn, free of fear or intimidation – no matter their immigration status," said State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman. "No family should have to worry that sending their child to school may result in deportation."

"Our immigrant students have a right to a free education and they must not fear retribution for themselves or family members simply because they attend school," said State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia. "As education and law enforcement leaders, it is imperative that we protect all students as well as the information we have about them to the fullest extent possible under the law."

Local police weigh bigger role in immigration crackdown

Undocumented children have the right to attend school full time, as long as they are over 5 and under 21 and meet the residency requirements, according to the three-page letter to school districts.

Districts have been seeking advice from the state on what their obligation is to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents who might show up to meet with students or obtain their school records.

The state, however, has long held the position law enforcement officers may not interrogate or remove a student from school property without a parent's consent – except in limited situations, like when a warrant has been issued or a crime has been committed on school property, according to the Elia-Schneiderman letter.

Also, the letter continues, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act prohibits schools from releasing personal information in student records, except under certain circumstances. However, the letter states, disclosing that information to a federal immigration official does not appear to fall under those exceptions.

Elia and Schneiderman encouraged schools to immediately contact their superintendent and legal counsel should immigration officials show up.

The concerns from schools come at a time when President Trump has promised to crack down on undocumented immigrants. Immigrant advocates, meanwhile, have noticed an uptick in activity, including in the Buffalo area, where two local raids in Hamburg and Grand Island recently netted 32 people.

"At a time when so many questions are being raised on what immigrant-related actions will be taken by the federal government, it is vital that we as educators and government officials remind our school communities about the importance of inclusiveness and the right of all students to receive an education without fear of reprisal simply by being in school," Elia and Schneiderman said in the letter.

This is the second time in less than a week that the state's education commissioner and attorney general issued statements about  the president's new policies.

Elia and Schneiderman last week told school districts they are obligated by state law to protect transgender students from discrimination – including allowing them to use restrooms that align with their gender identity – after the Trump administration revoked federal guidelines that offered some protections for transgender students.

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