Jay Chilton | September 19, 2017
Is OKCPS a sanctuary school district? Officials send mixed messages
By Jay Chilton, CIJ
Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Aurora Lora issued a statement on Sept. 5 in opposition to the Trump administration’s decision to rescind an Obama-era executive order establishing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. DACA allowed some individuals who entered the country illegally as minors to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation.
In an emailed message to staff and faculty of OKCPS, Lora directed employees of the district to “make sure that your families and students know that they are safe here. Immigration officials are not allowed in schools. We have updated our Immigration FAQ on the website, and we will be sending out the link to families today.” She provided a link to the site.
OKCPS board member Mark Mann echoed Lora’s position during the board meeting later that same day. “Immigration services are not going to be allowed on school property,” he said, “without the proper search warrant.”
However, the “Statement Regarding Phase Out of DACA Policy,” on the OKCPS website does not contain the first or fourth paragraphs of Lora’s original statement. The language referring directly to President Trump and the declaration that OKCPS will disallow law enforcement officials from its property has been removed.
Lora discussed the issue with Jeremy Hobson of Boston radio station WBUR, on Sept. 6. She believes the rescinding of DACA will be “devastating” for students and families in OKCPS.
During the Sept. 5 school board meeting, board members took turns expressing their views regarding the administration’s decision to end the program, a process taking 31 minutes.
Following the meeting, CIJ asked Lora for an opportunity to ask a question. The question was deferred to a member of her communications staff.
The staffer was asked if the superintendent and members of the board intended for community members to see OKCPS as a sanctuary school district. The staff member said that she did not know but that neither the written statement nor the comments of the board members had affected any policies for the school district.
As a follow-up question, CIJ asked, “So just to be clear, the entire discussion about DACA tonight and the press release today did not change any policy of Oklahoma City Public Schools in any fashion?”
“That’s correct,” she answered.
Jay Chilton is a multiple-award-winning photojournalist including the Oklahoma Press Association’s Photo of the Year in 2013. His previous service as an intelligence operative for the U.S. Army, retail and commercial sales director, oil-field operator and entrepreneur in three different countries on two continents and across the U.S. lends a wide experience and context helping him produce well-rounded and complete stories. Jay’s passion is telling stories. He strives to place the reader in the seat, at the event, or on the sideline allowing the reader to experience an event through his reporting. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism from the University of Central Oklahoma with a minor in photographic arts. Jay and his wife live in Midwest City with three dogs and innumerable koi enjoying frequent visits from their children.