The Shawnee Mission School District hears from the ACLU about a child’s alleged ICE-related arrest

Superintendent Jim Hinson’s resignation isn’t the only problematic letter the Shawnee Mission School Board has received this week.

The other communication comes from the ACLU of Kansas, and its content should disturb board members and district families.

The ACLU reports that, on February 7, a student at Briarwood Elementary School was taken into custody by Prairie Village police at the end of the school day. The child’s mother had been detained by immigration agents earlier in the day.

The spectacle of an elementary student — reportedly a third-grader — being escorted into a patrol car and driven away in front of his classmates is bad enough. But, according to the ACLU, school officials did not notify the boy’s father or other emergency contacts about what had happened. And initially, district officials refused to say that the arrest had happened.

The detention has been reported by Channel 41 news, the Shawnee Mission Post and The Harbinger, the student publication at Shawnee Mission East. But district officials have denied that the events had taken place.

“No child was removed from a classroom or in front of other students at Briarwood by ICE or the police, and no child was arrested,” the district said in a statement.

But Doug Bonney, the ACLU’s chief counsel, disputes that position in a letter to school board president Sara Goodburn. His version, obtained from Catalina Velarde, the family’s attorney, documents a nightmarish situation in which ICE agents went to a family’s home looking for the father. He was not there, so agents detained the mother and called state child protection authorities to take custody of a toddler in the home. Authorities notified Briarwood about the developments, Bonney said.

His letter continues: “At the end of the school day, Briarwood staff members sent the student to the principal’s’ office and told him he could not get on the bus to go home that day. Shortly after the end of the school day, Prairie Village police arrived and took the student into state custody, apparently as a child in need of care. Other students still at the school saw the police escort the boy to a squad car and take him away. These events traumatized the boy.”

The father reclaimed both of his children later that evening, and the parents are working with their attorney in an effort to avoid deportation, according to the Harbinger’s story.

In his letter, Bonney tells Goodburn “it is essential” for the district to investigate. “If the school officials turned the student over to the police without a court order, they violated the parents’ rights.”

District policies should require school staff to notify parents and emergency contacts before releasing children to government officials without a court order, Bonney writers. His letter urges Shawnee Mission to follow the lead of the Kansas City, Kansas, School District, whose board earlier this year passed a resolution stating that immigration agents cannot remove students from school property without a warrant. Kansas City Public Schools in has adopted a similar policy in Missouri.

“The current climate of fear among immigrants — both documented and undocumented — and in the wider school community requires a reassuring response from policymakers like members of the Shawnee Mission Board of Education,” Bonney writes. “Failing to take action will hurt the district’s mission of providing high quality education to all of the students it serves.”

So far, Shawnee Mission’s response has come across as defensive and uncooperative. District patrons, who already are riled about secrecy and a fortress-like administration, will want to know why district officials initially denied that a third-grader had been taken away in a cop car. And, assuming that really happened, they’ll want to make certain it doesn’t happen again.

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