Things That Matter

After This School Board Member Blamed the District’s Failing Scores on ‘Illegal Immigrants’, People Are Calling for Her Resignation

A school board member in Pennsylvania’s Oxford Area School District has come under fire for what many are saying were racist and xenophobic remarks against a certain segment of the student population.

On January 18, newly-elected school board member Jennifer Kehs went on a minute-long rant about the “illegal immigrant” students at Oxford Area School District who she blamed for the district’s failing test scores.

Kehs’ comments start at the 3:30 mark.

During the school board meeting, Kehs asked for language to be included in an upcoming policy revision that would distinguish between homeless students, “illegal immigrant” students, and other students.

“If we’re going to have a policy around illegal immigrants… we can separate it completely from these homeless people. Sorry, homeless students,” Kehs said. “I think we should really take into consideration what we put in a policy that applies to illegal immigrants, because those people may potentially continue on this downward trend, as we have people coming into our school district who don’t speak any English, who have no schooling in America.”

During the meeting — which can be viewed here (Kehs comments start around 3:30) — a few of Kehs’ colleagues push back on her rhetoric. District superintendent David Woods says, “I’m not sure we’re even allowed to say that. I’m not sure we’re allowed to ask if they’re illegal or not.”

Another member says, “I just think you’re making a broad assumption. What about foster children? You’re pinning this all on one thing without any data.”

Despite being lightly challenged by her fellow school board members, Kehs doubled down on her statements. “We are now going to be accepting, I don’t know how many numbers of illegal immigrants,” she said. “If we are accepting those people, those will very much drive down additional numbers on our scores.”

At time of publication, a petition posted to change.org calling for her resignation has amassed more than 60,000 signatures.

“After the comments made at the January 18th Oxford Area School Board meeting by Jennifer Kehs, she needs to resign,” reads the petition. “This isn’t the first time she has made these racist and xenophobic statements, and we cannot allow someone with these beliefs to oversee education in our school district.”

“Statements blaming immigrant students for bad school outcomes are simply false and make families feel unwelcome and afraid to attend school,” Deborah Gordon Klehr, executive director of the Education Law Center, said to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Federal law prohibits schools from asking about a student’s immigration status. As both experts and individuals with first-hand experience of undocumented life in the U.S. can attest, being a student with an undocumented immigration status is already an experience that is full of challenges, both psychologically and socioeconomically.

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