Douglas takes stand against 'celebrating students who entered the country illegally'

Diane Douglas

Diane Douglas

PHOENIX -- State schools chief Diane Douglas is opposing provisions of a federal report on helping undocumented children, with aides saying their boss sees key provisions as "political indoctrination' and "celebrating students who entered the country illegally.'

Douglas' office said Thursday it is not involved with the report earlier this week from the U.S. Department of Education. More to the point, press aide Sally Stewart said the agency "does not support' the activities proposed in the federal guide.

Stewart said the only thing on which Douglas is focusing about illegal immigration is to try to get the federal government to pick up the cost for "undocumented youth who flooded the Arizona education system due to actions by the federal government.' That specifically includes last year's influx of unaccompanied children into this country from Central America.

The federal guide is aimed largely at high school and college students. It includes a discussion of the rights of undocumented students, including those in the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program who are being allowed to stay without fear of deportation.

Other subjects include non-citizen access to federal financial aid, a list of private scholarships for which undocumented youth might be eligible, and guidance for migrant students in accessing their education records needed to qualify for DACA status.

But Michael Bradley, Douglas' chief of staff, said what his boss found offensive were suggestions for special programs.

For example, the federal guide says schools should "host an undocumented immigrant awareness day and consider partnering with community and stakeholder groups to amplify the event.' It also suggested having an "Undocumented Week,' with each day to "highlight an issue faced by undocumented students or celebrate an accomplishment of the undocumented immigrant community.'

"It's almost political indoctrination to say we're going to take up our school day and, instead of teaching math and language arts and science and helping these kids with whatever trauma they've experienced coming up from Central America, that we're going to have some contrived week to celebrate the fact that they went through whatever they did to enter the country illegally and arrived wherever they did without any notification,' Bradley said. "It's almost a celebration of President Obama's executive action instead of the education of the children.'

Bradley said his boss has no problem providing help for undocumented children who may have emotional issues from their trek to the United States.

"We're all for that,' he said. "But it's not a situation we should celebrate.'

Stewart said it's irrelevant that many of these students were brought here as younger children by their parents and had no say in the matter. That is why they qualify for DACA status.

"The superintendent's mission is to facilitate an excellent education for all Arizona students,' Stewart said. "However, she feels schools should be teaching kids, not celebrating students who entered the country illegally.'

But Bradley said the position his boss is taking is not based on the fact that these students are undocumented.

For example, he said there are 500 Somali families in the Balsz Elementary School District in Phoenix.

"So we want to provide special support for them,' he said. "But we're not going to suggest that they have a Somali celebration week and take five precious days from school education time to celebrate the fact that we have Somali refugees,' Bradley said.

In her education plan released earlier this month, Douglas proposed billing the federal government for not just educating but also providing counseling and health screenings for students who arrived from Central America and were "randomly dropped off around the state of Arizona by the federal government.'

Douglas cited official figures that about 427 unaccompanied immigrant children had been apprehended by immigration authorities and placed with sponsors in Arizona. But Douglas said she's not necessarily buying it.

"Others believe the numbers were well over 50,000,' she said in her report.

"Video smuggled out of detention centers, and the size of detention centers, support the much higher estimates,' the report says. And that does not include children who were apprehended, given a court date and released without supervision.

"It is blatantly unfair for Arizona communities to unexpectedly receive and pay local taxes for decisions made by the federal government not to enforce immigration policy,' according to Douglas' report. "Educating these students is an increased financial burden for Arizona, its schools, and its taxpayers when Arizona is already facing significant education funding issues.'

Douglas never raised the issue of illegal immigration last year when she was running for office. But it did come up in the campaign.

A week before the Republican primary, incumbent John Huppenthal called a press conference to warn voters about what he said was a threat to the state. He said Arizona schools could be inundated with tens of thousands of immigrant children at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars if President Obama enacts some kind of amnesty.

But in response to questions, Huppenthal confirmed federal law already requires all states - to educate children regardless of their immigration status. And that, he said, means the children he fears might be granted amnesty are likely already ?in Arizona schools.

Douglas defeated Huppenthal in the primary and later went on to win over Democrat David Garcia.

On Twitter: @azcapmedia

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