Removing school posters sends the wrong message.
Like many children in Eugene, my twins returned to school after winter break ready to reconnect with their school, teacher and fourth-grade classmates. But when they got back to El Camino del Rio/River Road Elementary School, they found something missing: their "Immigrants Welcome" posters.
The fact that El Camino del Rio posted signs proclaiming "Immigrants Welcome" makes sense to people who know the school community. Only 42 percent of students there are white, and the school has a vibrant Spanish/English immersion program.
My children, who speak English at home, get to learn Spanish, and their classmates who speak Spanish get to learn English, all while learning the standard fourth-grade curriculum. Many of the students at El Camino del Rio, or their parents or siblings, have immigrated to the United States. Some of the bilingual teachers are also immigrants.
So the presence of those "Immigrants Welcome" posters is easily understood as a part of the school's welcoming, inclusive culture.
However, the construction workers who were in the school over winter break to do repairs don't know the community, and at least one of them found the posters offensive. That person went through the school, hallway by hallway and classroom by classroom, and removed them.
One of the workers also put a picture of the posters on Facebook, with comments about "indoctrination," adding "someone tore them down, they are all in the garbage now."
When my children returned to their school, the posters were missing. Teachers had to read a hateful Facebook post to learn what had happened in their classrooms while they were gone. Parents were not informed - I found out about the incident only because my children came home upset.
When the posters' removal was reported to the school district, teachers were instructed not to rehang the posters, because the district's lawyers said they were "too political."
What the school district has missed in its reaction to this incident is that schools are always political, and the decision to silence debate by instructing teachers to not rehang the posters is also a political one.
Public schools in the United States have a long history of being the places where our debates about immigration play out as policy. In 1982, the U.S. Supreme Court weighed in on this debate, ruling that all children who live here, regardless of immigration status, have the right to a free, high-quality public education. In fact, schools do not ask students their immigration status, and are considered "sensitive locations" by immigration enforcement officials.
Public schools in the United States have made a commitment to all children. This commitment is an enduring American value, and is a reflection of our overall commitment to education as a source of opportunity and a pillar of democracy.
This isn't always an easy value to uphold. In February of 2017, the Eugene School Board published a resolution affirming its commitment to a safe and supportive environment for all students, regardless of immigration status or ethnicity. The resolution deliberately avoided the term "sanctuary," again in the hopes of avoiding what the board
sees as politics. That same month, Eugene Weekly ran an article describing discrimination faced by Latino students in the district.
Although it is easy to see why the district might want to avoid a conversation about these posters, sometimes we have to do uncomfortable things in the name of the greater good.
The posters include smaller text under the "Immigrants Welcome" message that discusses the nature of borders. This is the text that was deemed "too political."
If the district has a concern about those words, then that is a discussion we should have. But it should take place in public, with the full participation of the neighborhood and community, not decided behind closed doors.
When the administrators told El Camino del Rio not to hang the posters because they are "too political," they were trying to avoid taking a stand. However, not rehanging the posters is also a political act, and it's one that is at odds with the district's own policies. As Gustavo Balderas, superintendent of the Eugene School District, said in his Dec. 10 guest viewpoint in this very newspaper, "our schools should be places where every student, every staff member, and every family feels safe, welcome and successful."
With the New Year comes a chance for the school district to demonstrate its commitment to making every student feel welcome, and to take a stand for Oregon children.
It should allow the rehanging of El Camino del Rio's "Immigrants Welcome" posters.
Kristidel McGregor is a parent of children at River Road/El Camino del Rio Elementary School and a doctoral candidate in the University of Oregon's College of Education.