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A voice for kids too afraid to go to school

The Toronto Star - Nov. 24, 2009
Nicholas Keung
Immigration Reporter

Gerald and Kimberly Lizano-Sossa from Costa Rica. Mathew Nguyen from France. Rawad Reda from Lebanon. Sarah Leonty from St. Lucia.

These youths, at one point or another living without legal status in the GTA, represent the otherwise voiceless and faceless people too afraid to attend school for fear they will be detained or deported.

Three years after their publicized stories prompted the Toronto District School Board to adopt the "don't ask don't tell" policy – keeping its schools from asking a student's immigration status at enrolment – advocates say non-status students continue to be hassled or are refused enrolment.

In an attempt to better inform school employees – from principals to office clerks – about board policy, advocates, with the support of Ontario elementary and secondary school teachers' unions, have launched a self-made video.

The 22-minute video, titled Education Not Deportation and available online at www.vimeo.com/7698225, includes interviews with teachers and advocates about the policy and profiles of three undocumented youths who express their fear of being turned in to immigration officials by school administrators.

"I miss school and all my friends and my teachers, but I don't want to get deported," says 10-year-old Kumar in the film. He was pulled out of school by his mother after six weeks when school officials started questioning his immigration status.

Critics complain the board has done little to convey the policy to front-line workers who handle registration and enrolment, even though the Education Act states anyone under 18 is entitled to attend a public school regardless of immigration status.

Over the past year, video co-producer S.K. Hussan said his group, No One Is Illegal, has worked with Parkdale Legal Clinic, lobbying to get more than 60 non-status students into Toronto schools.

"We felt that we needed to step up and create the video ... to educate school officials," said Hussan, 25, a university research centre coordinator. "Schools still ask for students' status upfront and people are still denied access to education."

Although the board adopted the policy unanimously in 2007, Pamela Dogra of the Elementary Teachers of Toronto said its registration form still requires immigration information and there is no training or promotion to guide front-line staff on how to handle undocumented students.

"In my own school, when questions start being raised, students stop being in the classroom. We worry that they are already going underground," said Dogra, a teacher for 10 years.

Hayssam Hulays, a member of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation's human rights committee, said the board must change the registration form and train front-line staff. Hulays said the board has agreed to put posters and brochures in all school guidance offices to ensure staff and students are aware of the policy.

Source: http://www.parentcentral.ca/parent/articlePrint/729817