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The Star: School Board endorses `don't ask, don't tell'

May 26, 2006
NICHOLAS KEUNG - The Toronto Star

Canada's largest school board has adopted, in principle, a "don't ask, don't tell" policy when it comes to dealing with students who may not have legal status in the country.

Toronto District School Board trustees voted unanimously this week to designate staff to work with city council, the police board and social agencies to come up with a common protocol — one that would ensure non-status migrants and their children aren't turned away from services and pushed further underground out of fear.

"We need to show some courage and leadership, that we are not allowing our kids to be used as pawns," said Trustee Josh Matlow (Ward 11, St. Paul's), to the applause of more than two dozen supporters of the motion.

The board's move came after Canada Border Services Agency officials last month entered at least two Toronto schools — both part of the Catholic board — and arrested three girls and a boy who were children of undocumented migrants. In one case, they were used as bait to flush parents out of hiding.

"We want to make sure it doesn't happen again to other kids across the city. Anybody, regardless of their immigration status, should be able to go to school without fearing they'd be targeted by (border security) officials," said Sima Zerehi, chair of the grassroots No One Is Illegal campaign.

A formal policy, stipulating that school board staff will not report or share information about the immigration status of any student or family, is expected to be formulated by the fall.

Trustee Chris Bolton, whose Trinity-Spadina ward has a huge immigrant population, said in an interview that the board has left the response in such situations up to school administrators. In the motion approved this week, front-line staff are advised to seek direction from the board's safe schools department until the new policy is implemented.

Existing admissions policy, at least on paper, requires principals to ask for proof of immigration status, immunizations and residency through leases and hydro bills. But ultimately, they have discretion on whether to accept a non-status student.