On eve of Trump inauguration, students ask SRC for broad protections

New SRC member Christopher McGinley attends his first meeting on Thursday, Jan. 19.

Baktiar Choudury is afraid.

The mosque where the Central High School senior worships was recently vandalized, he said. Graffiti with the words ISIS is here appeared on its walls.

"If this level of ignorance can touch a mosque, it can touch the hearts of students and teachers," Choudury said Thursday night.

On the eve of Donald Trump's inauguration as president, Choudury and other students asked the School Reform Commission to keep them safe. They demanded broad protections for immigrants, females, minorities, Muslim students, LGBTQ people, and others "who may face heightened threats over the coming months and years."

The students laid a colorful paper petition - signed by more than 1,000 city residents and decorated by Philadelphia School District art students - in front of the commission.

Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. pledged help.

"Our schools will - and I'm committing to this - continue to be safe havens for our students," Hite said.

Hite said he had urged city teachers to be mindful of students' fears.

"Some are anxious about the possibilities of deportation," Hite said. "Others are fearful they will become the targets of hate crimes."

Live updates: Get the latest on Donald Trump's inauguration here.

Most of the students' demands are already being met, said Karyn Lynch, the district's chief of student support services. One of their requests, however - that the district train teachers and staff on how to respond to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials who ask schools for information about students - is not yet being done.

But, Lynch said Thursday night, the training will be done.

"If our students and families want it, we will do it," she said.

To her knowledge, no ICE official has ever demanded information from any city school. The district is bound by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), a federal law that protects the privacy of students' educational records.

Even if it wasn't bound by the law, Lynch said, protecting students' personal information "is the right thing to do."

New SRC member Christopher McGinley expressed solidarity with the students. One of his children is an adopted immigrant, he said.

It was McGinley's first meeting as a commissioner. Mayor Kenney appointed the former Philadelphia teacher and administrator, who has worked as superintendent of the Lower Merion and Cheltenham School Districts, to the SRC on Wednesday.

kgraham@phillynews.com

215-854-5146@newskag

www.philly.com/schoolfiles

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