Boston Incident is a Wake-Up Call for Schools: ICE Presence Goes Deep

By Dr. Travis Bristol and Keri Rodrigues

Education Leaders of Color (EdLoC) has repeatedly spoken out about the need to protect our most vulnerable students. It is our moral obligation to create spaces where students feel safe and can learn. We have published resources for anyone working with students to ensure we are doing everything we can to protect our students. Doing so goes to the heart of who we are as educators working in schools, systems, and in communities of color across the country, and we will continue to speak out and act every time our students are under threat.

The resources EdLoC shared with our network of over 300 leaders of color were created by the Boston Public Schools (BPS), under the leadership of Superintendent Tommy Chang, to support immigrant and LGBT students. For those of us who have worked with Superintendent Tommy Chang, we know that this type of leadership—standing up for students and not sitting on the sidelines-- is consistent with his values. Therefore, we read with disbelief that Superintendent Tommy Chang was accused of sharing student information with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

We understand that as the leader of BPS, Superintendent Tommy Chang is ultimately accountable for the people in the system, even if he personally did not share any information. Systems leaders across the country see every day the fear created in our communities by the actions of the federal government; the alleged incident in BPS, if true, further exacerbates those very legitimate fears.

But, let’s be honest: no one in-the-know in Boston should be surprised by this incident. First, there is a constant police presence in schools which criminalizes our kids; then there’s the practice of inputting student incident information into the same system used by the Boston Police Department, the Department of Homeland Security Office of Intelligence & Analysis, and Federal Bureau of Investigations, among many others (a system bureaucratically dubbed the Boston Regional Intelligence Center - otherwise known as BRIC); mix the two with a federal government bent on terrorizing our families, and it is easy to see how an “incident” could happen. The advocacy community already has warned BPS about this possibility.

We believe that Boston leaders must move quickly to:

  • Review all of its policies and practices to ensure the system is not inadvertently sharing information that could put students in harm’s way. And, if it is, separate the systems. Moreover, all staff should be required to participate in training on new policies and practices.
  • Stop any collaboration - intended or unintended - with the current presidential administration for the community to remain good allies.

It is our hope that Mayor Walsh and BPS will listen to the concerns of the community, explain how immigration authorities obtained student information, and correct the system that may have led to this alleged incident and ensure that Boston truly is a welcoming and safe place for our immigrant students and families.

This alleged incident has far-reaching implications beyond the City of Boston. We urge every school system across the country to examine their policies and practices so that they are not unwittingly disclosing student information to law enforcement agencies who may share information with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). What safeguards have you established to prevent the sharing of school system data, including data related to student incidents in school, with immigration authorities? Have you trained all staff on these policies and practices?

Our students are counting us to protect their right to a free public education regardless of their immigration status.


Dr. Travis Bristol is Peter Paul Assistant Professor at Boston University.
Keri Rodrigues is Founder and Mom-in-Chief of Massachusetts Parents United.


Dr. Bristol and Keri are members of Education Leaders of Color.