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We will keep our promise to all students

September 16, 2017

With the school year starting, many of our kids are settling into their daily academic routines, while others are becoming less and less settled. Students across California have a growing concern about an issue they have no control over: their immigration status.

Under the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, students who would otherwise have to fear deportation over a choice they had no part in making have been allowed to flourish in classrooms across our state and throughout the nation. But now, uncertainty and fear have returned due to the Trump administration’s decision to end DACA over the next six months.

An estimated 65,000 undocumented students graduate from U.S. high schools annually; the influx of college and university applications from this special population continues to grow each year. As a result, many Dreamers are now leaders in cities, businesses and classrooms across the country, with over 100,000 in Los Angeles alone. As charter leaders in Los Angeles, we are joining together to stand up for these students and their families. No executive order will preclude our promise to educate all students regardless of background. These children should be encouraged — and allowed — to dream, and it is the responsibility of educators to help them do so.

The success stories of these students are not flukes. They embody the promise and success of our educational system — that their efforts can be rewarded with careers in medicine, engineering and other industries, bringing value-added resources to local economies and neighborhoods. The hard work of students alongside the tireless efforts of public school teachers have proven that high-quality public education is a game-changer. Teachers in classrooms throughout Los Angeles and the nation are ensuring that all students, regardless of immigration status, can be college ready upon graduation. Our Dreamers are overcoming social stigmas and racial tensions in order to reach their academic goals. We need to protect and encourage their efforts — not stifle them.

Public schools should be learning sanctuaries that champion intellectual curiosity, and ensure our children learn about citizenship, diversity and tolerance. As educators, we believe that all students must have the opportunity to gain access to knowledge helping to build their lives and strengthen our communities.

All students should be dreamers, and every educator should be a facilitator of their dreams.

And that is why charter leaders in Los Angeles have paved the way for keeping the public school promise to all students over the past years. Charter school operators and advocates have always been united in their commitment to educate all students. We are proud that the Los Angeles Unified School District’s board shares this goal, and has made it a priority to place kids first under the district’s “We Are One L.A. Unified” campaign.

Both charter and district schools have developed tool kits for students, alumni and their families in need of guidance. Additionally, many schools, both charter and district, have declared themselves safe zones where immigration enforcement actions cannot take place without district review. The quality of public education should remain blind to the socio-economic and political conditions surrounding a student and his or her family. Education offers opportunity alongside a challenge to those seeking it. The simple truth is that anyone who heeds the call to improve their lot in life through academics should not be punished. Period.

Students are children, learners, our future — they are not criminals, and should not be treated as such. President Trump, himself, declared DACA students as “incredible kids” days after taking office. We agree. Politics aside, we join others in education in reaffirming our promise that all students must have access to high quality, safe educational spaces where they can grow and become productive members of our society. DACA allows just that, and it has been a successful program by any measure. Ending it arbitrarily punishes the very students who need us to fulfill the promise of public education most. America is better than that, and we urge Congress accordingly.

Emilio Pack is CEO of STEM Preparatory Schools and chair of the Los Angeles Advocacy Council. Cristina de Jesus is president and CEO of Green Dot Public Schools California and vice chair of the Los Angeles Advocacy Council. Marcia Aaron is CEO of KIPP LA Schools.

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