Toronto

Toronto school board pushes 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy on immigration status

The Toronto District School Board is moving ahead with a plan to keep its schools from asking about students' immigration status, but critics say the proposal doesn't go far enough.

The Toronto District School Board is moving ahead with a plan tokeep itsschools from asking about students' immigration status, butcritics say the proposal doesn't go far enough.

Under the board's proposed policy, schools would adopt a so-called"Don't Ask, Don't Tell"rule, meaningtheywouldn't ask for, report or share information about whether a student is an illegal immigrant.

The issue first arose in 2006 in Torontowhenimmigration officials pulled children from school in an effort to find their parents in two separate cases.

A board committee approved the proposed policy at a meeting Wednesday evening. In the coming weeks, it will be voted on by the board.

"We're sending a message to kids of immigrants in Toronto that schools are safe and secure sanctuaries for kids.They're learning environments," said board trustee Josh Matlow.

However, a Toronto activistgroup called the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Campaign said the policy has glaring gaps.

Theproposal states that schools would refer immigration officials to the board's director of education, but does not say what the director would then do.

Also, students would still be required to provide their immigration documents since schoolsmust give the province students' date of entry to Canada when requesting funds for English as a second language programs.

"It's a failure to provide safe schools for all and it's a failure to provide access," said Sima Zerehi, a spokeswoman for the activist group.

Several members of the group run youth programs and say some of the children they work with don't go to school out of fear they'll be picked up by immigration agents because their parents are in Canada illegally.

In one of the 2006 cases that brought the issue to light, thetwo teenaged daughters of Alavaro Serdas were taken into custody by immigration officials in a bidto find their father.

Serdas called thetactic an abuse of power and said it was unfair to children since it wasn't their fault they were broughtto the country.

The province's Education Act states that children cannot be denied access to schooling because a parent or guardian is illegally in Canada.