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Why Kentlake High School students are not going to Canada

Kentlake High School. (WkiCommons, Ald Ahmed)

For about two decades, Kentlake High School has sent students to Victoria B.C. for a major band festival.

But not this year.

“Their reason was because of undocumented students,” Justin, a father of a 9th-grade band member told the Dori Monson Show. “Obviously, it sucks for all the kids that prepared for this … kids that couldn’t have gone, they probably wouldn’t have even asked to go at all. It’s optional, it’s not required … You sign up and go.”

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The Kent school board recently voted 2-2 (one board member was absent) to halt the Victoria trip for Kentlake High School students. They voted with consideration that undocumented students are not able to go — given the issue of crossing the border.

“I think they are actually trying to make a political stand,” Justin said.

“In this political climate, it feels like if you raise your voice in any way — that might sound like it’s against an immigrant student or something like that — then everybody loses their mind,” he said. “… My son said, ‘This is not fair. The few are hurting the many.’”

But fairness is actually the motivation for school officials, according to Chris Loftis, executive director of communications for the Kent School District. He argues that the decision involving Kentlake High School is meant to align the school with the law.

“There is nobody that is happy about the situation,” Loftis said. “It’s the situation we find ourselves in.”

“A lot of folks in the media and the community are trying to put some sort of statement against the current administration, or the White House, or are looking at the political side,” he said. “… to be honest with you, using the standard that we are using with equity, this is a decision that could have, and maybe should have, been made years ago because the reality is that undocumented students have not been able to attend this program for years.”

The other side of the Kentlake High School issue

Loftis argues that a ’80s Supreme Court decision directs schools to offer equal education to citizens and undocumented students. If any Kentlake High School student is unable to participate in a program because of some sort of status — disability, documentation, etc. — that means the school is not offering an equal education.

“I was meeting with a parent this morning who made that point,” Loftis told Dori. “She said, ‘I can guarantee that not one undocumented kid has ever gone on this trip.’ And I said, ‘And that’s the point.’ The point isn’t the new (Trump) administration. The point is equity. If we have a program that we are involved in, that by definition, some of our students can’t participate in, then we can’t participate in that program or that project. We look at this just the way we would look at a student with disabilities, or a student with a different ethnicity, or nation of origin, anything that would describe a student that would separate them in some way … We can’t discriminate, we can’t prohibit them from participating.”

Loftis notes that it is illegal for schools to ask about documentation or the immigration status of children. Therefore, officials do not know the status of students in Kent. Loftis says that anecdotally they have an idea, since Kent is one of most diverse districts in the country with 135 languages spoken.

“It’s certainly unfortunate, I don’t know that it’s unfair,” Loftis said. “… We know and we understand that this is a very, very disappointing situation for those students.”

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