After President Donald Trump was elected in November, Darwin Elementary School teachers noticed their students had a new conversation topic: immigration.
They’d say things like, “I would like to move to Mexico because they won’t kill me there.”
Melissa Calvillo, a Darwin math teacher, overheard one of her students talking about how her family couldn’t visit Disney World because they feared her undocumented dad would get stopped at the airport or pulled over while driving.
Calvillo was one of about a dozen teachers who attended a “Know Your Rights” workshop at Darwin last week put on by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.
About 85 percent of Darwin’s students are Hispanic, and teachers wanted help in handling their students’ fear and anxiety.
“We noticed there was a huge amount of anxiety permeating schools,” said Bridget Murphy, of the Logan Square Neighborhood Association. “How do you concentrate in school if you’re concerned about this?”
So far, their efforts have reached over 240 teachers and Chicago Public Schools staff in the Logan Square area.
The workshops focus on various topics: what it means to be undocumented, how sanctuary schools can support students of all backgrounds, students’ and parents’ rights, and dealing with students who have immigration concerns.
Besides Darwin, workshops have been held at Funston Elementary School, James Monroe Public School, Mozart Elementary School, Avondale-Logandale Elementary School and Carl Schurz High School.
Teachers attending the workshop at Darwin came eager to learn and asked many questions.
Murphy explained the difference between criminal and civil law and emphasized that just because someone does not have a visa, or doesn’t have the right visa, doesn’t mean they have committed a crime.
She also touched on different ways immigrants can obtain legal status, such as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, noting the process is far more complicated than what it sounds.
“Families don’t want to be undocumented,” Murphy said. “If you don’t come from an immigrant community, you may not know” there is no easy path to legal status.
In February, CPS sent a memo to principals spelling out what to do if U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents show up: don’t let them in without a warrant and call the CPS Law Department.
Murphy said that memo was a great first step, but that many resources, such as student counseling, are still needed.
“With all of the [CPS] budget cuts, there are more gaps than ever,” Murphy said. She said the workshops, put on by neighborhood association volunteers, are not CPS funded.
Since the presidential election, CPS has distributed “know your rights” information to schools in five languages, CPS spokesman Michael Passman said in an emailed statement.
It also has held monthly “Know Your Rights” parent workshops in every school, as well as three town hall meetings since the election to discuss the DREAM act issue — students who were brought here illegally. Passman also said CPS has provided teachers with guidance on how best to help students cope with their emotions.
CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner said there have been no immigration-related incidents in any CPS school and praised the sanctuary schools policy.
“Making sure that all students feel safe, welcome and valued is a top priority for the district, which is why we continue to share resources with teachers and families,” Bittner said in an emailed statement. “These resources help provide insight into dealing with social and emotional challenges, as well forums to answer questions and connect families with appropriate resources.”
CPS’ Office of Social and Emotional Learning plans to hold a three-day trauma workshop for teachers to learn how to better handle student concerns related to anti-immigrant sentiment, Bittner said.
At Darwin, teachers asked how to respond if an ICE agent knocked on their door, how much it can cost to obtain legal status and what to do if students come to school after witnessing an immigration raid.
Murphy advised teachers to let parents know their rights. She recommended not opening the door if the immigration agent doesn’t have a signed warrant, not signing any documents you don’t understand, and being aware that you have the right to an attorney, the right to remain silent and the right to make a telephone call.
Second-grade teacher Mayra Garcia recalled how during the inauguration her students wrote letters to the president with questions such as “Why are you building a wall?” and “How do you expect to earn our respect when you’re not respecting us?”
“Even if they don’t say it, I see how they’re feeling during this time through their writing — and it’s very powerful,” Garcia said.