By Halle Zander | Aspen Public Radio
The Roaring Fork School District issued a letter of apology on Tuesday after U.S. Border Patrol officers attended a Career Expo at Glenwood Springs High School on Tuesday.
In the letter, Superintendent Jesus Rodriguez said the presence of Border Patrol violated the board’s Safe Haven resolution, which was passed in 2016 and states that students at school will be free from the threat of deportation.
It also states that the district will provide a safe environment for all students, regardless of their immigration status.
District staff are not aware of any students suffering from direct threats on Monday but recognize that students can be intimidated or traumatized by the presence of Border Patrol officials.
House District 57 Representative Elizabeth Velasco condemned the school administration and event organizers in a letter on Tuesday.
(Elizabeth Velasco’s company provides translation services for Aspen Public Radio).
She explained her frustration in a call with Aspen Public Radio on Tuesday.
“As a new American, as community leader, as the state representative, this is unacceptable,” Velasco said. “And it was concerning and disturbing to learn that they were invited to a career fair for students in our community.”
Velasco said she was happy with the quick response from the school district, taking accountability for the mistake.
However, the school district was not aware that Border Patrol would be on campus.
Carbondale-based nonprofit Youthentity organized the event and invited Border Patrol to participate alongside local law enforcement agencies.
“I sincerely apologize to any student or community member who was inadvertently hurt by their presence,” in response to questions about the choice to include Border Patrol at Monday’s event, the executive director of Youthentity, Kirsten McDaniel said. “The purpose of the event is to connect students with a variety of professionals to learn more about their career paths. This includes students who may want to serve their local community, state, or country in a law enforcement or military capacity.”
McDaniel adds that Youthentity pledges to work more closely with school district teams regarding future events to help ensure all students feel safe.
Calls for accountability
Voces Unidas de Las Montañas, a Latine advocacy organization based in Glenwood Springs, released a statement on March 22 calling for the school district to hold Glenwood Springs High School Principal Paul Freeman and Youthentity accountable for this error in judgment.
“Inviting the U.S. Border Patrol not only violates the safety of immigrant students, it has the potential to invoke trauma experienced by students and their families at the hands of immigration agents,” Sanchez said in a press statement on Tuesday.
In an interview with Sanchez on Wednesday, he said the superintendent’s apology and possible action steps were appropriate, but Rodriguez was not responsible for Border Patrol’s presence at the school.
He wants Freeman to come forward with a plan to repair the harm caused by this event.
“We want to hear from the principal of Glenwood Springs High School what his plan is going to be to heal and repair the mistrust that his campus has created with our community,” Sanchez said.
Asociación de Jóvenes Unidos en Acción (AJUA) also released a statement on Wednesday regarding the incident.
AJUA is a youth-led, immigrant rights and social justice advocacy organization born from student organizing efforts at Roaring Fork High School in 2012, and its leadership team is calling for Freeman and the Glenwood Spring High School leadership team to go through implicit bias training.
Freeman responded on Wednesday to Aspen Public Radio saying, “No one in the district—including from my team or the other high schools—knew which entities would be at the event this year. We will ensure we’re working more closely with YouthEntity going forward so that we can be thoughtful in planning and communicating about the event. We are committed to supporting all of our students each and every day.”
Superintendent Rodriguez offered possible next steps to repair the harm caused by yesterday’s event, including hosting legal consultations, "Know Your Rights" trainings, or restorative justice circles for affected students and families.
The district will wait for feedback from students and parents to see what the community needs most before deciding how to move forward.