In light of the concerns expressed by parents, students and faculty at Sunset Park schools following the victory of President-elect Donald Trump, elected officials and a non-profit legal team hosted a town hall meeting at I.S. 136, 4004 Fourth Avenue, on Monday, November 28 to address the fears of immigrants within the diverse School District 15.
“This is not a discussion on politics or the recent elections,” warned Eric Sackler, principal of I.S. 136. “Schools educate students and community, and since there has been a lot of misinformation regarding rights, we thought we would have this town hall to dispel some of those rumors and give you some factual information as well as some resources you could turn to.”
Superintendent of District 15 Anita Skop shared words of comfort. “We are about providing a safe, secure environment so children can learn,” she said. “We’ve had teachers crying in principals’ offices. I know how important this is and what you’ve gone through to get your children here for an education. I pledge to you tonight that here in District 15, that will happen.”
Skop also had a message from New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña — children will continue being safe in school as schools don’t ask for immigration status and aren’t allowed by law to give out any status on anyone.
Bullying was also addressed by Skop on behalf of Fariña. “We are very cognizant of the social and emotional needs of children, and because of that, we have zero tolerance for bullying and strong respect-for-all programs, and we have strict policies and protocol in place to support you,” she said.
Congressmember Nydia Velazquez, Councilmembers Carlos Menchaca and Brad Lander, Assemblymember Felix Ortiz and representatives of the Legal Aid Society were part of the panel to discuss the angst of the community as well as solutions.
“In my 23 years in office, I have never witnessed the kind of anger, hostility or rhetoric that was expressed in this country,” said Velazquez. “Our children were watching TV and listening to news. When parents discuss the result of an election and the impact that might have in their lives, it trickles down to our children. If they are concerned or preoccupied, that is going to impact the mental health of our children.”
“Our students have this new layer of fear,” added Menchaca. “The day after the election, I was at P.S. 516 and parents had an emergency meeting and one thing that keeps coming up was we didn’t know how much our children understood about it. Their concept was so highly developed that the fear was real.”
In addition, he said, there have been offensive statements made by students and faculty. “It took one comment to create a ripple effect in schools and create a chilling effect on reporting of bullying,” he said. “It’s something we need to respond to.”
Amy Point, representing the Legal Aid Society, a non-profit organization that provides defense to immigrants, gave advice to attendees, including making sure your immigration attorney is legitimate since many individuals who claim to be immigration lawyers are not.
She also discussed immigrant rights. “Whether you’re undocumented or a U.S. citizen, you do have rights,” she said. “It’s important to know if Immigration comes to your home, they don’t have the right to enter your home unless they have a warrant from a judge that says they have a right to enter. It has to have your name on it.”
Velazquez also offered advice. “You should continue to live your life the same way but always have a plan in action,” she told the crowd.