Hispanic immigrant and other Fayette County Public Schools students have been harassed since the presidential election, and they need help from school officials, advocates told school board members Monday.
President-elect Donald Trump made statements on the campaign trail about deportation actions he would take against immigrants who are in the United States illegally. He made comments about wanting to shut down or limit immigration of Muslims entering the United States.
Students are reflecting anti-immigrant sentiments when they talk to their classmates, and immigrant students are being mocked and bullied, the advocates said.
Naomi Clewett, who works at a branch of the Lexington Public Library in a largely Hispanic immigrant neighborhood, told the board that at a meeting she heard from one mother who came to the United States from Mexico 16 years ago, and who was especially worried about her son in high school, who has lived in the United States all his life. He was being harassed and bullied by classmates, Clewett said.
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“He has been told to pack his bags, he needs to go back to Mexico,” Clewett said.
The student didn’t want to go to school, and the mother was afraid he was suicidal, she said. “The woman was crying, and she was obviously terrified and also heartbroken.”
“We’re just asking that the school district know that it’s happening, and it’s serious,” Clewett said.
Advocate Monica Calleja told school board members that immigrant students are being told by fellow students, “We don’t want you here. This is no longer your country,” and that she has been told of harassment and hate crimes in schools.
Calleja said Hispanic immigrant students and their families are not reporting the harassment to authorities out of fear or because they don’t know how to report.
Another advocate, Rabbi Moshe Smolkin, said, “I know that there are kids that are being harassed and there are kids that are harassing. But all of them are our children.”
Smolkin said he hopes students are encouraged to express empathy.
The advocates said some immigrant students are feeling anxious at school because they fear that their parents will be deported.
“We have students wondering what does it mean for their family,” Fayette County Superintendent Manny Caulk said in an interview. “We want to reassure them that we are certainly going to provide support for these students.”
Freddy Peralta, a businessman and immigrant advocate, said it was important that students and their parents feel that schools are safe places.
Caulk said after the meeting that district officials will look into the concerns. He said he hadn’t heard about increased harassment before Monday’s meeting. He said there were interventions and staff in place at all schools to help students who might be experiencing problems. Caulk said the district had anti-harassment and anti-bullying policies.
“We are sensitive to what students are going through,” he said.