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ACLU reminds public school systems that they must protect immigrant students

aclu virginiaThe ACLU of Virginia has warned public school officials of their legal responsibility to not just properly deal with incidents of harassment and bullying, including those in which undocumented immigrants are victimized, but to head them off before they occur.

In a letter to every local school system superintendent in the Commonwealth dated Tuesday, ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Claire Guthrie Gastañaga referred to sections of state and federal law that prohibit discrimination and harassment based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin or disability, and require schools to protect immigrant children from bullying and harassment by taking action to prevent it from occurring.

She also cited Virginia law that provides every student with the right to an education free from “substantial intimidation, harassment, or harm or threat of harm by another student,” and requires local school divisions to establish “character education programs” that inform students about the harm bullying causes.

“We are very concerned about anecdotal reports from public schools across the country in which immigrant students have been singled out as targets for bullying, discrimination and harassment,” said Gastañaga. “We have not yet received a serious complaint about an incident in Virginia, and we’d like to help keep it that way by reminding leaders in local education of their legal obligations.”

Gastañaga also reminded school administrators they cannot deny enrollment to undocumented students or consent to immigration enforcement action on school grounds, which are considered to be “sensitive locations,” according to U.S. Department of Homeland Security Policy.

In the letter, educators also were encouraged to embrace the benefits of teaching diversity and inclusion.

“By encouraging staff members to teach why harassment is wrong and to teach why equality and respect are essential to a free society, schools can help prevent harassment from occurring,” the letter states.