CAMDEN, NJ — The Camden school board passed a resolution last week that will further ensure the safety and access to services to students who are undocumented in the district.
School board member Falio Leyba-Martinez — who in the five months he's served on the board has advocated for the city's Hispanic population — says he's against the notion of the bylaw simply being a formality.
“If I’m going to be asking the district to bring in programs for people that don’t speak English very well or folks that are immigrants, I think it’s important to advocate for resolutions like this to be proactive,” Leyba-Martinez, who first presented the resolution to the board in January, told TAPinto Camden.
The school board member emphasized that Superintendent Katrina McCombs and fellow board members were “100 percent behind it” and instrumental in its passing.
"We do have a large number of undocumented folks and this resolution is going to give them the confidence to trust us as a public school district," he said during Tuesday's board meeting.
Leyba-Martinez said the resolution helps certain parents be a part of district-wide initiatives with more ease, such as the census count— pointing to potential fears of deportation faced by the largely Hispanic student population when revealing personal information.
Through the resolution, the CCSD vowed to continue to maintain welcoming environments for all students and families regardless of whether they are documented or not and look for more ways to add or enhance programs that specifically help that population.
Faculty and staff are also now under no obligation, unless legally required, to assist Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers in their duties on school grounds.
Employees of the district will also continue not to collect information regarding a student or their parent’s immigration status.
“Every action, every decision made as a district is focused on accelerating student achievement. This means creating and maintaining safe learning environments for all of our students,” said McCombs in a statement. “We recognize the value of diversity that immigrant students and families bring to the school district. This resolution supports our mission of moving Camden forward.”
The Camden school district already largely provides written information in both English and Spanish to its parents, students and staff.
However, the newly-elected Leyba-Martinez said on his agenda will be expanding that to include other communications as part of a more wholesale approach.
He has taken moments at every board meeting so far this year to translate certain topics into Spanish for the audience, as well as ask for clarifications on resources being provided in both languages.
“I truly believe steps like this are going to start attracting people back to our district,” Leyba-Martinez said. “We need to gain the trust of a lot of parents and students if we’re going to see the numbers in our public schools rise.”
He said the new resolution drew from similar steps taken elsewhere in the country.
The language within it specific alludes to a 1982 Supreme Court decision, Plyler v. Doe, that upheld states cannot under the constitution deny students public education on account of their immigration status.