Charlotte teacher Justin Parmenter delivered these remarks to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board last week.
I am a seventh-grade language arts teacher at Waddell Language Academy in Charlotte, North Carolina. I’m also the proud husband of an immigrant. Our school system serves students from all walks of life, and almost 30 percent of our students have a home language other than English. This rich multicultural tapestry offers a daily opportunity for us to learn from each other and experience a variety of perspectives. I welcome every single student who walks through my door with no questions asked because that’s my job and, more importantly, that’s what they need from me. In addition to teaching children how to read and write, I try to instill in them positive character traits such as compassion and empathy. I’ve learned the best way to do that is not by lecturing them about compassion and empathy but by treating them that way myself. In the last month I’ve heard the level of fear on the part of many of my students increase, have seen it in their writing as they react to news of changes in immigration policy and arrests of undocumented immigrants in our community. Across the state my colleagues report rising absenteeism along with impacts on the mental and physical health of our students. Our district is obligated under federal law to educate all children who come to us. I believe that it’s implicit in that mandate that we must consider their overall well-being and do everything we can to support them. With that in mind, I’d like to suggest that we take some additional steps at this time. I’d like to see our school district:
Provide additional counseling for students who have been negatively affected by recent ICE activity in our county;
Work in concert with local advocacy groups to educate our families on what their rights are as they relate to immigration policy;
Strive to be open and transparent about what’s happening in our community and whether our schools and bus stops are safe from ICE raids.
Finally, we need to keep in mind that not sending their children to school can result in our parents entering the criminal system and becoming a priority for deportation. I would ask that, as a district, we ensure that our schools and bus stops are safe harbors and communicate that clearly to parents so they are not keeping their children home out of fear.
Along those lines, I would like to thank Superintendent Ann Clark for seeking to verify with local law enforcement and federal immigration officials that our students are safe in our schools. Taking these steps to mitigate the stress and anxiety many of our students are living under right now will help us to carry out our vision of preparing every child to lead a rich and productive life. In so doing, as a district, we can model the compassion and empathy that we want our students to learn.
An original version of this post appeared on The Charlotte Observer.
Justin Parmenter is a seventh-grade language arts teacher at Waddell Language Academy in Charlotte, North Carolina. He was named a finalist for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools teacher of the year in 2016 and currently serves as a fellow with Hope Street Group's North Carolina Teacher Voice Network.