Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Were Immigrant Parents Afraid to Report Sex Abuse Allegations at California School?

The children attending the Los Angeles elementary school where two teachers were recently charged with sexual abuse largely fit a certain profile–they are Latino, poor and have immigrant parents. In 2011, 98 percent of the 1,471 students at Miramonte Elementary School were Hispanic.

Those factors might make the children there particularly vulnerable because such families often avoid contact with police.

Police recently arrested teachers Mark Berndt, 61, and Martin Springer, 49, on suspicion of committing lewd acts on children. The Associated Press, as well as other Spanish and English media, reports that some undocumented immigrant parents of students there are afraid of talking to police.

“We are afraid of talking with the police department and then being deported,” parent Alejandra Manuel told the Associated Press in Spanish. She is the mother of a nine-year-old student whose teacher was Berndt. “We don’t even want to go to the school meetings because they are full of police.”

Language could also be a barrier for parents who don’t speak English. On Fox News Latino, Geraldo Rivera went so far as calling it “a case of silence of the lambs.”

The situation raises the question: Did these two teachers feel that students and parents wouldn’t speak out because they were afraid the investigations might expose their residency status?

Some lawyers apparently have advised parents to be careful about speaking with police. The Los Angeles Times reported that attorney Jessica Dominguez also raised the issue in a press conference and even introduced a father who said he didn’t report alleged abuse by Berndt because he was afraid of deportation.

Los Angeles’ County Sheriff’s Department is a strong supporter of the Secure Communities program, in which police share fingerprints of people arrested with FBI and  Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to identify suspected undocumented immigrants with criminal records. But  police say that the Miramonte parents’ immigration status will not be questioned and that they need to speak with them to complete the investigation.

Immigrant activists have also spoken out on the matter.

“The parents and children of Miramonte are going through an unspeakable nightmare,” Lynn Tramonte, deputy director of America’s Voice Education Fund, said in a statement, MSNBC reported. ”The fact that many of them are afraid to work with law enforcement only adds to their tragedy.”

Not only in cases of alleged abuse, but also in general, do you think fear of deportation negatively affects parental involvement at schools with large immigrant populations? In this era of increased deportations, this is an issue I’ve heard come up in other school districts.


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