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Lowell High’s effort to support DACA recipients erupts in controversy

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Students at Lowell High School sign a controversial banner meant to support DACA recipients on Monday, September 25, 2017. (Laura Waxmann/S.F. Examiner)
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An intended show of support for undocumented students and their families at Lowell High School backfired Friday after some students said a banner inscribed with the words “We all are immigrants and we all stand together,” was neither sensitive nor inclusive of all of the school’s students.

“As an African American female I believe that we are not immigrants — our ancestors were forced to come here. We didn’t choose to come here and live. It wasn’t a message to all of our students,” said Senior Chy’na Davis, a member of the school’s Black Student Union.

The 4-by-24-foot banner was born out of a “10 days of action” effort by the school’s Student Advocacy Committee, a student-led group with some 15 members, and Lowell’s Parent Teacher Student Association, to show solidarity with recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. President Donald Trump has threatened to repeal DACA, which shields undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children from deportation, in six months.

At the end of the 10-day period Monday, the groups had planned to take the banner down for the students to sign with their names and country of origin. Along with a statement of support for DACA, the banner would then be sent to the White House.

The groups said they received approval from the school’s administrators and from the San Francisco Unified School District to hang the banner at the school’s entrance, where it lived for about a week.

“We certainly spoke to the Black Student Union, La Raza, all the people whom we felt were interested parties. Everyone was supportive,” said former PTSA president Missy Mastel, adding that the Lowell administration’s sudden change of heart was “concerning.”

By Friday, other student groups on campus decried the attempt at solidarity with Lowell’s immigrant and undocumented communities as misguided.

After seeing the banner greet students entering the school daily, Lucy Perez, a member of Lowell’s La Raza student group, said that she and other minority students “felt [the] need to step up and let people know that this was taken seriously because it was offensive to our communities.”

PTSA president Stan Goldberg defended the banner’s original message on Monday.

“After the election date the DACA community adopted that slogan and used it repeatedly across the country to carry their stand,” said Goldberg, adding that his mother, an immigrant from Poland, was deported from the U.S.

Following the pushback from school administrators, however, Goldberg said he consulted with PTSA members and it was decided that the banner was better placed on the school’s public sidewalk.

“I got feedback and overwhelmingly we said, ‘The school has a right to do that. They can change their mind, they can control what happens [on school ground] and there is no free speech for students on school ground,” said Goldberg. “The object of SAC is to advocate and my job is to help them learn the methods… and not to give up and when you have resistance, but to come up with an alternative. That’s advocacy.”

Lowell Assistant Principal Orlando Beltran said while the school supports free speech, it has historically been dominated by a “specific population or two,” and that administrators are working to mitigate that disparity.

“We have some really amazing, independent thinkers here. They don’t need adults getting in their way, swaying their ideas or thoughts or feelings,” Beltran said about the banner.

Lowell’s Principal, Andrew Ishibashi, agreed. Last Friday, Ishibashi instructed the PTSA and the student advocacy group to take the banner down, and replaced it instead with one that reads, “Lowell High School stands united with our Dreamers and their families. Lowell cares.”

But Lowell junior Ashley Tran, a new member of SAC, said the drama over the banner could have been avoided with more sensitivity toward all of Lowell’s students.

“The term immigrant refers to people that came to the U.S. by choice. They came prepared and are looking to make their lives better. Refugees did not come by choice,” Tran. “I really wish that someone on the committee and someone that reviewed the banner before it went up would have brought up this point.”

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