Austin ISD superintendent holds press conference to address concerns raised by parents, faculty

Austin ISD Superintendent Paul Cruz reiterated to the media Monday evening in a press conference that the school district is dedicated to providing safe learning environments for all of its students. Although not said explicitly, it was implied these comments are in reference to concerns voiced by parents, students and faculty members about the upsurge in Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, raids nationwide.

Cruz said he felt compelled to hold the conference after hearing stories from teachers and students about their concerns and anxieties.

"I understand it, and it's very real for them," he said. "I want to ensure that our teachers and our community members know and understand that we are here for them to support our students in a positive learning environment."

According to one reporter, a union was caught handing out literature to students detailing how to react if confronted by ICE. Subsequently, it was alleged that AISD management sent out a memo discouraging principals from allowing the distribution of such materials. While Cruz did not speak directly to either of these documents, he did reference information that has been disseminated detailing what is considered "appropriate" to share with students.

"What we have done is put out very clear talking points and clear points about what to do and what not to do," he said. "That has been provided to staff members."

Cruz confirmed when the Day Without Immigrants protest and boycotts took place last Thursday, the district estimated approximately 20,000 student absences. Rhetoric surrounding the protest discouraged parents from sending their children to school in support of the movement.

"We want to make sure individuals express themselves in ways that are meaningful but understanding that we still have school every day, and school is a place of learning," he said.

In response to an allegation that perhaps this press conference might be interpreted by community members as too little too late, Cruz said while this is the first public conference he has held, he has been actively fielding questions and concerns from his staff every day. He referenced meetings he held last week with principals and parent support specialists.

"Given what I have been hearing, I thought it was extremely important to be in front of my principals and hear from them and understand their concerns, the questions that might arise and to be responsive to that," he said.

Monday's AISD board of trustees special meeting will set aside 90 minutes for a discussion on immigration issues. Cruz confirmed a declaration will come before the board for review and possible action about "safe schools and board values."

"When we have students who are facing different issues, and with over 83,000 students, those issues are different for every single youngster, every single family, and every single day," he said in closing. "My message is we are here in Austin ISD to educate all of our students, which is something the Austin community expects from us; it is the law that we educate all kids, and it is what we are going to do."

By Olivia Lueckemeyer
Olivia Lueckemeyer graduated in 2013 from Loyola University New Orleans with a degree in journalism. She joined Community Impact Newspaper in October 2016 as reporter for the Southwest Austin edition before her promotion to editor in March 2017. In July 2018 she returned home to the Dallas area and became editor of the Richardson edition.