Our nation, not unlike the Verona community, is brilliantly arranged as a kaleidoscope of diversity which encompasses different race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. For most of us, our forefathers originated in a different part of the world but came to America to establish roots with the hope of good fortune. Some may be more recent immigrants to the United States while others have families that date back several generations. Personally, I am first generation American born, the eldest son of two Portuguese parents who came to America to begin a new life. I was unable to read, write, or speak fluent English until the age of 8, yet I was afforded so many incredible opportunities because of access to a public education despite challenges I faced along the way. We all have our own personal narrative to tell and each of us has similar stories about our own ancestry.
Over the past several weeks, we have received inquiries from community members regarding newfound anxiety around immigration status and enrollment in public school education. The Verona Public Schools is committed to protecting the rights of all students, as we value diversity and nurture vibrant, robust spaces for student learning. All children are entitled to an education, regardless of immigration status. The law is clear that public schools have a responsibility to provide a free, thorough, and efficient education to all student residents. State law and a Supreme Court decision clearly state that U.S. citizenship is not required for a domiciled child to attend public school (Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202 (1982) and NJAC 6A: 22-3.3b). These laws have been in effect for many years and are not the result of the current political climate. Nonetheless, recent events, along with continuous media coverage, have made this a real issue for some people within local communities.
The Verona Public School district has agreements in place that cover sharing of information across a myriad of issues with the Verona Police Department, the Essex County County Prosecutor’s Office, New Jersey State Police, and DCP&P (formerly known as DYFS). The district is obligated to cooperate with all law enforcement, including agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Department of Homeland Security, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). However, any agency outside of those in our local partnerships would always operate through the appropriate organizations within our agreements.
School must remain a safe place for our students to learn, each and every day. As educators, we act in loco parentis, where our staff serve in place of a parent during the school day on behalf of the best interests of all of your children. Our schools are responsible to protect our students from any interference during their educational school day while under our care and supervision. The district has noted a long standing practice, that our students will not be questioned or detained by law enforcement officials without the proper, court ordered warrant. With that, any agency who comes to our schools and requests to interact in any way with a student must first demonstrate the legitimacy of such a request and must operate with our local law enforcement officials.
In an effort to provide clarity on this issue, the District highlighted many of these important points during a recent Board of Education meeting. Our educators provide safety and consistency for all of our children to thrive. Our schools must remain a place where we advocate for children while promoting and protecting the welfare and safety of all students, safeguarding the values of democracy, equity, and diversity.
All my best,
Dr. Rui Dionisio
Superintendent of Schools