LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- After a lengthy discussion, the Jefferson County Board of Education voted Tuesday night to approve a resolution that protects immigrant students from being unlawfully threatened or questioned by federal immigration officials.

The resolution, which was submitted by JCPS school board chairman Chris Brady, declares "every JCPS school to be a safe haven for students and families threatened by immigration enforcement or discrimination, to the fullest extent permitted by law."

Four board members -- Brady, Lisa Wilner, Chris Kolb and Diane Porter -- voted in favor of the resolution, while three board members -- Linda Duncan, Steph Horne and Ben Gies abstained from voting on the measure because they felt the district's current policies on the matter are already clear.

"It is my job as elected board member to speak out for my students and my community," Porter said before voting in favor of the resolution.

Kolb, agreed, saying: "Folks are fearful. We need to let them know, we need to communicate that we will protect them to the fullest extent of the law."

But Duncan said JCPS already has a policy in place pertaining to students who may or may not have documentation. She said she felt the resolution is "misleading" because "everyone's interpretation of this is different."

"Can we say to everybody that you can be safe from federal authority?" she asked, to which the school board's attorney said "protection would be granted to the fullest extent of the law."

Horne said she was very concerned about the resolution.

"The safety and welfare of our students are paramount," she said. "People know that I always fight for our students' best interest; however, I believe it is not in the students' best interest to start this fight."

Horne added: "There are federal and state privacy protections that JCPS has always and will continue to  follow."

"The board, through its policies and oversight role, should hold management accountable to follow the law," she said. "But setting up our Board of Education as an antagonist against our governor and president is a fight that is not in the greater interest of our students."

The resolution states that "no Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers or other immigration law enforcement personnel shall be granted access to JCPS schools or facilities for the purpose of enforcing immigration laws unless the superintendent is adequately notified of the intention to enter, so he or she can take steps to provide for the emotional and physical safety of students and staff."

It also states that "those requesting to enter provide the superintendent with credentials, the reasons for the requested entry, and written authorization, provided by law, for such entry; and the Superintendent determines, upon consultation, as appropriate, with district legal counsel, that the requested access should be granted."

In addition, the resolution says:

  • JCPS employees, contractors, volunteers, and representatives shall refrain from inquiring about a student’s, parent’s, or guardian’s immigration status or require any student, parent, or guardian to produce documentation regarding immigration status.
  • JCPS shall continue to provide strictly confidential counseling to all students, including those who fear what might happen to them or family members due to immigration status, and will, without inquiring into the particulars of any student’s immigration status, refer each student having such fears to organizations to provide them with accurate information about their rights and responsibilities under immigration law.
  • JCPS employees, contractors, volunteers, and representatives shall not, unless compelled by a valid court order, or subsequent to receiving a signed release from a parent or guardian, disclose to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers or to any other person or entity any information about a student’s or family’s immigration status or any information that is protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

Earlier in the day Tuesday, JCPS chief academic officer Lisa Herring sent teachers and staff a letter outlining the district's commitment to educating all children and "making our campuses a safe zone for students and families."

"This letter emphasizes our support and safety for students and families who may feel threatened by immigration enforcement," Herring wrote. She also included the numerous services and resources for students and families the district provides.

JCPS does not collect any immigration data, only information about language status in order to ensure proper placement into one of the district's English as a Second Language program or assignment to into the Newcomer Academy.

However, according to recent data released by JCPS, 7 percent of the district's 101,000 students have limited English proficiency and 6 percent receive English as a Second Language (ESL) services. In addition, more than 135 languages are spoken by JCPS students and those requiring ESL services are the fastest growing student group in the district.

Brady says the resolution may help boost achievement for its ESL students.

"They are also the only gap group that didn't actually go up in achievement this past year so it's something that passing a resolution like this that would help support the academic performance of these kids so they have one less thing to worry about," Brady said.

Reporter Antoinette Konz covers K-12 education for WDRB News. She can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.

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