America’s schools invested too much in Dreamers to lose them

America’s schools invested too much in Dreamers to lose them
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America's schools need President Trump and Congress to follow through on a solution to reinstate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program immediately. We need a no-nonsense deal now, not in six weeks, or six months — now.

While Washington continues to debate the future of DACA, the president insists that Dreamers — young people who came to this country as children, many of whom attend and teach at the schools we lead in New York and Denver — have no reason to worry.

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But these hollow reassurances only demonstrate how divorced the Beltway is from the reality of the situation in our schools. Presidential assurances don't take the place of protective law, and our communities — teachers, students, families — will draw no assurance from anything other than law and immediate certainty.

 

The threat of enforcement has caused panic in some of our best students and teachers. It has handed our school administrators a to-do list that has nothing to do with education as we face the very real fear of losing members of our school community. Every day of delay is an injustice that takes possibilities away from so many of us.

Take “Rose,” a student in a Denver public high school. Rose is a rising junior, one of the very best students in her class. She’s taken on a rigorous schedule. She’s been studying all summer for the PSAT. Rose would be the first in her family to attend college — something she and her parents have talked about for years.

And yet — while her other classmates are preoccupied with studying, with preparing to apply for college, and just being teenagers — Rose is worried about whether she might be sent “back” to a country that was never her home. Is it safe for Rose to sign up for entrance exams and apply to schools? Or does she have to wait for a deal to find out?

Take “Carlos,” who graduated top of his class at Stuyvesant. Before DACA, the only opportunity Carlos had after graduation was to work for his family. Now he’s going to college and excelling academically. So many teachers have spent their careers investing in students just like Carlos from kindergarten through college. Do you really want to lose all of that?

Or what about Mr. Alvarado’s students? Mr. Alvarado is an elementary school bilingual teacher. And he’s one of our best. Should we be planning now for a day in March — right in the middle of the school year — when he stops showing up for work? What do you think will happen to those students’ progress when their fourth-grade teacher is replaced with a substitute mid-year?

Ending DACA isn’t a policy decision. Ending DACA is a notice to students, teachers and parents to put their dreams on hold.

It’s a notice to students like Rose and Carlos that their focus shouldn’t be on college and finding their dream jobs — that we don’t need them here.

It’s a notice to Mr. Alvarado and the teachers like him that our country cares more about where their parents came from than how they can help our children learn.

And it’s a notice to school leaders, like the Chiefs for Change we represent, that our focus must be on losing great students and replacing terrific teachers in the middle of the school year, rather than on providing a quality education.

Instead of playing political games with students’ lives, our leaders in Washington should come to our schools and see the impact their decision is having. Hear how quickly students’ conversations shift from “how was your summer” to “are you going to be safe?” Meet with the school counselors who should be helping students figure out what they want to achieve this year, not how much they stand to lose.

Come see how every day that a solution is delayed makes our schools a place of fear and uncertainty instead of a haven from which to learn and grow.

Dreamers are our students, our teachers, our counselors and our friends. Most of them had no choice to come here when they did, and they make our schools and our country stronger. Please, stop asking them to put their dreams on hold any longer. Let’s get this done.

Angelica Infante-Green is deputy commissioner for the New York State Education Department. Susana Cordova is deputy superintendent of Denver Public Schools. Both have spent their careers educating English Language Learners and now are part of Chiefs for Change’s Future Chiefs program, which brings together innovative state and district education leaders who are transforming our nation’s schools.