By Seth Daniel
On Wednesday, one day before last Thursday’s (Feb. 16) ‘Day Without an Immigrant’ protest, a fifth grader came up to his principal at one of the elementary schools.
With a confused look, the little boy asked his trusted principal if the schools on Thursday would be for everyone, or just for Americans.
It was a poignant look through the eyes of a child at what has happened in the last month as the U.S. Government has tightened its immigration deportation standards and groups around the country – and in Chelsea – have responded with protests and resistance. That question, at the same time, highlighted the panicked humanitarian crisis that is happening within many illegal immigrant families in Chelsea and the unchecked amounts of misinformation traveling in the rumor mills and media sources.
The end result was that 2,180 students – with some 655 from Chelsea High School and 299 from the Early Learning Center – missed school last Thursday during the ‘Day Without an Immigrant.’ Overall, some 35 percent of the entire district population missed school.
Supt. Mary Bourque said there were certainly many students that stayed out because of the protest, but many were gone due to misinformation and fear.
“What we heard from young people and older students was that people believed that if you went to school last Thursday, ICE was going to pick you up as you go to school,” she said. “Really, it was the fear factor that kept a lot of our students out of school. Our students didn’t seem to participate in the demonstration. They stayed home because they were scared.”
Bourque said many of the local community-based organizations helped to try to convince folks that they shouldn’t keep their students at home.
“Missing a day of their education is exactly the opposite of what students should be doing,” she said. “If ever a student was to go before a judge, they would want to be able to show they had good attendance and solid grades.”
Sylvia Ramirez of the Chelsea Collaborative said they had no part in planning the ‘Day Without an Immigrant.’ She said they did their best to assure people that it was safe to go to school. However, there is also a competing force out there whereby people aren’t completely sure it is safe to go to school.
“It’s too bad 2,100 students didn’t show up for school, but it didn’t really matter how many times you might tell some of the folks who are undocumented that it’s okay. We can tell them nothing is happening; they will still assume something bad is going to happen. This is just a reality for many people. You can be a helpful community member and try to assure people, but they are living in a different reality. How do we tell people thing is going to happen in Chelsea when we don’t know if that’s true or not? We have a plan if something happens, but we can predict nothing will happen.”
Bourque said she has heard that another protest might happen again in May, and she wants to be ready.
“We want to let students know school is safe,” she said. “School is the safe haven. It’s the place where their futures will be built.”