Southern Chesco school board member faces thousands of resignation calls following ‘illegal’ immigrant rant
Oxford School Board member Jennifer Kehs blamed the district’s poor test scores on immigrant children.
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During a Jan. 18 meeting, an Oxford Area School District board member, Jennifer Kehs, called for a district policy on homeless students to use the phrase “illegal immigrants”and blamed declining test scores on “those people.”
As of early in the evening on Tuesday, Feb. 1, more than 18,000 people had signed an online petition featuring a video of Kehs’ remarks, and demanding that she immediately resigns from the school board.
Alumni of the southern Chester County district denounced the comments in a letter they intend to present during a board meeting next week, and advocacy groups also expressed concern.
“Laying the responsibility for poor test scores at the feet of students whose immigration status is unknown is either ignorant at best, or else intentionally malicious,” the students wrote.
Andrew Goretsky, regional director for the Anti-Defamation League’s Philadelphia branch, told The Philadelphia Inquirer that the group was “deeply troubled by the anti-immigrant remarks” that were made during last month’s meeting.
“No human being is or should ever be referred to as ‘illegal,’” he said.
During the January board meeting, Kehs began asking questions as the board took up a revision to a policy about students experiencing homelessness.
“These students that are being discussed are they illegal immigrants,” she said. The district’s superintendent informed Kehs that the district, like others in PA, cannot ask about a student’s immigration status.
can’t believe that a school board member being blatantly racist.— Alejandra Ramos (@AlejandrraRamos) February 2, 2022
help out and sign this petition
Residents of Oxford Area School District: Jennifer Kehs Needs to Resign from Oxford Area School Board - Sign the Petition! https://t.co/m57slv1Mye via @Change
Kehs continued anyway, saying that “we should call out, rather than calling homeless students, we should call them illegal immigrants, or include the two terms within the policy. We should say homeless students and illegal immigrants.”
The superintendent, David Woods, said he wouldn’t recommend it.
Kehs then went on to say that the district’s academic ranking is declining, holding up what she said is a chart showing the decrease.
“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,” Kehs said.
Another board member questioned her statement, saying that it is too big of assumption to make.
“How do you know that’s not coming from a cohort of socioeconomically disadvantaged students?” her colleague said.
An Oxford Area School District board member who called for a district policy on homeless students to refer to “illegal immigrants” and blamed declining test scores on “those people” is drawing backlash and calls for her resignation. https://t.co/2g44drA2YY— The Philadelphia Inquirer (@PhillyInquirer) February 2, 2022
The district enrolls about 3,300 students, 34% of whom are considered economically disadvantaged. More than 60% of students are white, and 32% are Hispanic. Just over 10% are English learners.
A 2009 graduate of Oxford Area High School, Elizabeth Darling, helped organize the alumni letter that condemned Kehs for her “unfounded, racist claims,” and stating that it’s easier to blame a marginalized group than to address the real problems within the district.
The letter cited an analysis commissioned by plaintiffs suing the state over school funding that identified Oxford as having a funding shortfall of more than $7,000 per student.
Darling said 250 alumni from different graduating years have signed onto the letter.
“Kehs doesn’t represent the views of Oxford,” Darling told The Inquirer.
“Statements blaming immigrant students for bad school outcomes are simply false and make families feel unwelcome and afraid to attend school,” said Deborah Gordon Klehr, executive director of the Education Law Center.