DeKALB – It was an emotional night at the District 428 school board meeting Tuesday, as the board remained divided but heeded the urging of dozens of supporters and approved a welcoming resolution that will prohibit the district from sharing information about students regardless of citizenship status.
Bernice Rivera Munoz, DeKalb High School student and daughter of immigrants, began to cry as she urged the board to adopt the resolution and “create a community that protects one another.”
“It will bring a sense of relief to the parents and students of undocumented families,” she said. “This resolution will protect them from ICE raids, it will stop the constant worry and will serve as a breath of fresh air.”
The school board approved the measure with a 4-1 vote, with two abstaining after an effort to table the vote failed. Board President Samantha McDavid, Valerie Pena-Hernandez, Sarah Moses and David Seymour voted yes, while Jeff Hallgren voted no and Victoria Newport and Jeromy Olson abstained.
“This is about basic human dignity,” Pena-Hernandez said. “A kid did not make the choice to come here illegally, we have to remember that. My goal is to ensure they feel safe, and that’s what I will fight for every single day.”
Olson said he didn’t feel comfortable with the message the resolution sent.
“Anybody that hears we are a safe zone for immigrants that are undocumented might find it attractive to be here,” Olson said. “And what will that do to our tax base? What will that do to the community, and how will it change as a reflection of that?”
Pena-Hernandez urged fellow board member Jeff Hallgren, who said he welcomed all students who lived in DeKalb but said federal immigration authorities are enforcing the law, and Jeromy Olson, who also opposed the measure, to put themselves in the shoes of immigrants.
“I really am not here to judge any parents because my parents were here illegally as well,” she said. “And it was a very very long process. They entered here legally with the hopes of getting citizenship, and it didn’t occur as quick as we thought.”
The room crammed in a crowd of over 50 people, including many members of the Welcoming Western Counties immigrant advocacy group. Some audience members were opposed to the resolution and voiced frustration that their comments were limited to one minute because of the number of people (19) who were signed up to speak.
Dwayne Brown, of DeKalb, who opposed the resolution, became angry and accused the board of the violating his First Amendment right by limiting his time to one minute.
“No wonder we’re one of the highest-taxed districts in the country,” Brown said. “You people should go to jail.”
Lizy Garcia Ramirez, a DeKalb High School graduate, said she was undocumented for all the years she attended the district, and passing the resolution wouldn’t cost the district any money.
“[It was] stated that this resolution isn’t necessary because laws already protect these students,” Ramirez said. “However, the reaction from the broad DeKalb community on social media clearly shows ignorance and the exact reason why this resolution is needed now more than ever.”
Maurice McDavid, assistant principal at Cortland Elementary and former dean of students at DeKalb High School and District 428 graduate, said Cortland’s student population is 33% Latino.
“School and education does not happen in a bubble,” McDavid said. “When my mother was in the hospital my senior year and I couldn’t get money to take the [advanced placement] exam, my teacher did not say ‘that’s a home problem.’ My teacher paid for me to take the AP exam. That’s the type of community we need in DeKalb.”