Ogden school officials eye change to ease undocumented students' jitters

Tuesday , April 18, 2017 - 5:00 AM

TIM VANDENACK, Standard-Examiner Staff

OGDEN — Ogden School District officials are leaning toward implementing a new policy meant to ease undocumented students’ worries about possible action by federal immigration officials in schools.

But if they do act, the change may not go into effect until the 2017-2018 school year.

Latino and immigrant advocates here, spurred by tough talk on dealing with undocumented immigrants from President Donald Trump’s administration, asked school officials last month to consider a policy restricting action by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in schools. The Ogden School Board has yet to formally act, but school spokesman Jer Bates said the idea is getting serious consideration.

RELATED: Ogden immigrant advocates ask school reps for protections for undocumented kids

“We are taking this request very seriously and want to get it right,” Bates said in an email.

The school’s outside legal adviser is looking into the issue, he said. However, Bates hasn’t received any indication when it may come up for formal consideration. As of Monday, April 17, he said, it wasn’t on the agenda for the school board’s next scheduled meeting on Thursday, though he expects behind-the-scenes discussion pending eventual creation of a proposal.

It is “unlikely that we will be able to take formal action during this school year,” he said, “but we have a goal of implementing something for the 2017-18 school year.” About 51 percent of student in Ogden schools are Latino, according to Utah State Board of Education data for the 2016-2017 school year.

Barry Gomberg, one of the advocates pushing for change, said Ogden School District Superintendent Sandy Coroles updated him recently him on school officials’ plans, and he’s heartened. Gomberg is a member of the board of directors of the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah and executive director of affirmative action and equal opportunity at Weber State University.

“My colleagues and I are encouraged that the school board seems to be positively endorsing the concept, seems to feel it’s an important message to give its community,” Gomberg said.

The proposal put forward by Gomberg and others at a March 16 school board meeting would require ICE reps to inform school officials ahead of planned enforcement action. That would give school leaders a chance to brace affected students ahead of time. It also calls for creation of a special body to help kids whose parents have been detained by immigration officials, among other things.

Trump’s talk of cracking down on undocumented immigrants has prompted apprehension among many in the immigrant and Latino communities in Ogden and the rest of the country. Salt Lake City school officials last month implemented a policy sought by advocates there that’s meant to ease jitters among immigrants and their backers.

RELATED: As part of Day Without Immigrants protests, Ogden businesses close for the day

“I believe the measure was a good step forward in the right direction,” said Kathy Abarca, coordinator of Racially Just Utah and an advocate for action by Utah schools to support undocumented students.

Contact reporter Tim Vandenack at tvandenack@standard.net, follow him on Twitter at @timvandenack or like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/timvandenackreporter.

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