April 01, 2019
dr. burkett giving presentation

The world is watching how President Trump's immigration policies are affecting Hispanics in the United States, and how school administrators are attempting to calm students who fear that they, or a family member, could be deported.

UNT Dallas assistant dean of the School of Education, Dr. Jerry Burkett, has been researching the situation in Texas, and was invited to present his findings at England's Oxford University at the Oxford Education Symposium, which brought together educators from around the world late last month. Dr. Burkett's presentation, "Campus Administrators' Responses to Donald Trump's Immigration Policy: Leadership During Times of Uncertainty," revealed that public school principals in regions such as Houston, San Antonio and Dallas -- cities with large Hispanic populations -- are reporting issues with absenteeism, declining grades and an overall uneasiness about attending school at all out of fear that a family member might be deported while they are away.

"A culture of fear has developed," said Dr. Burkett, whose research of 17 principals, along with research done by Dr. Sonya Hayes of the University of Tennessee, was published last July in the International Journal of Educational Leadership and Management.

"Principals are dealing with it in interesting ways, and we found many went above and beyond the call of duty," Dr. Burkett said. "They did things you wouldn't expect, like one principal had a friend who was an immigration attorney and had him come in and share how to navigate complicated immigration policies. Some held weekly counseling and connected with churches. Principals are working to mobilize parents and students because they knew that this is what's going to help their students be successful."

Principals are also concentrating on supporting their teachers so they can remain focused on their students. Yet, Dr. Burkett discovered that teachers also harbor their own fears, for instance, that their parents or another relative won't be home when they return from school.

Dr. Burkett said President Trump's rhetoric on television and Twitter partly fuels the sense of fear. However, he said ICE raids earlier in Trump's presidency, brought that fear home in a real and frightening way. Dr. Burkett pointed out that his research took place prior to President Trump's rhetoric about the caravans of migrants en route to the southern border, and prior to the revelation of border detention centers housing migrant children separated from their parents.

He said he plans to do a follow-up study to determine how these factors have affected people living in border towns.