February 23, 2017
By Diane Smith
More than 15,000 students were absent from Fort Worth schools on “A Day Without Immigrants” on Feb. 16, an indication that immigrant families responded to President Donald Trump’s immigration strategy by keeping their children at home.
The day was described as an immigrant strike. Participants were encouraged to stay home from work, keep their children out of school and not make purchases.
The district’s attendance rate that day was 82.58 percent, compared with the usual average of about 95 percent. Some students missed class because of illness or other reason.
Overall, nearly 15,200 students out of 87,247 didn’t attend class, according to data obtained by the Star-Telegram through an open records request. Some campuses experienced absentee rates higher than 30 percent.
Success High School, a campus that offers accelerated learning to immigrant students, had the highest absentee rate — 39.86 percent of the school’s 286 students. Jo Kelly, a campus serving students with special needs, followedat 35.42 percent. Polytechnic High School and Carter Park Elementary School each saw absentee rates of 31 percent.
Skipping classes to participate in an immigration strike is considered an unexcused absence by the district. The district has not experienced higher-than-average absenteeism since Feb. 16, said Clint Bond, spokesman for the district.
Fort Worth school leaders have addressed the fears that persist in the immigrant community. Many students are worried about raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Others worry that family members will be deported and have expressed these worries to educators.
The issue was recently discussed in a meeting with principals, Bond said. School leaders have been asked to work with teachers and counselors to be “extra empathetic to some stress levels that our students and/or parents may share,” Bond said in an email.
“The message is to make sure our students and parents know they are a valued part of our school community and we need them at school every day to support academic achievement,” Bond said.
Teachers and counselors actively work to encourage students to attend classes and in cases of chronic absenteeism, they reach out to families, Bond said.
The district expects to lose state funding and was still trying to calculate the loss, Bond said. Texas school districts get state funding based on attendance. The Dallas Morning News reported that Dallas schools expect to lose $500,000 to $750,000.
The Fort Worth school district is majority-minority. During the 2015-16 academic year, Fort Worth schools had 86,869 students, with a makeup of 62.5 percent Hispanic, 22.9 African-American and 11.2 percent white, according to state data.
Many Fort Worth campuses with large Hispanic and immigrant communities experienced unusual upticks in absences Feb. 16. For example, at South Hills High School 536 students out of 2,169 didn’t show up for class.
District 6 Trustee Ann Sutherland, who represents South Hills, said the community has concerns about families and friends being separated by immigration enforcement. Keeping families together is a top priority, she said.
“South Hills has a large and dedicated Hispanic community,” Sutherland said. “It’s not surprising that so many decided to demonstrate their solidarity with those who may face deportation by choosing to stay home. I would expect additional issues as time passes if the Trump proposal is not modified.”
Thousands participated in the movement — labeled #undiasininmigrantes on social media — across the nation, from New York to Austin, determined to stand with immigrants and show the crucial role they play in the economy. Even though it was not widely publicized in North Texas, many families kept their children from school.