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Sitton community gets immigration raid scare

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Unconfirmed report of agents stopping area parents underscores district's efforts.

COURTESY: PORTLAND PUBLIC SCHOOLS - Sitton Elementary School in the St. Johns neighborhood of North Portland. Portland Public School officials are so far unable to confirm a report of an immigration status check in the Sitton Elementary School community in North Portland.

A teacher, who declined to be identified, said a parent called the school and reported being pulled over on North Columbia Boulevard and North Interstate Avenue and asked for identification. She said she didn't know whether children were stranded or not. A district official said at 6 p.m. that all children had been picked up from school.

Spokeswoman Courtney Westling said "something was happening," but it's still unclear if it involved a parent or immigration officials at all. Federal law enforcement could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening, Feb. 15.

Portland Public Schools declared itself a "sanctuary" shortly after the election of President Donald Trump, which means that they will not use district resources to help federal officers ferret out undocumented immigrants.

But immigration raids could affect parents or other family members of students, many U.S.-born citizens. The district's Teaching and Learning Committee, led by board member Julie Esparza Brown, has been working on a plan of action for a potential raid. That protocol, authorized by board resolution 5363, says a principal should notify the district and convene a building crisis team in the event that immigration officers attempt to enter PPS property or if there is a raid in the community.

The district would provide food and transportation if needed, as well as "establish safe space."

Rita Moore, a candidate for school board and a longtime schools activist, said she has recently contacted the state Department of Human Services to ask what school communities could do to prepare for such events. Students with deported parents could be left at school or otherwise affected.

Moore said DHS workers prefer to place stranded children with "kin," biological family. If there aren't any available, their next preference is to place them with "kith," friends, teachers or other adults known to the child.

"If a kid can be placed with somebody they already know, it can make an enormous difference in the level of trauma that the kid is going to experience," Moore said.

Moore began an effort yesterday to get lists going of people in school communities who are willing to become emergency foster parents in cases like this, but it hasn't come together yet.

"It's all very theoretical at this point," she said, noting that she has heard several unconfirmed rumors in recent weeks of raids that later turn out not to be true.

Sitton's student body is 43 percent Hispanic, according to 2015-16 data. The district does not ask for nor keep data on the immigration status of students or their families.