Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) officials said the hotline was a response to increasing concern about potential changes to immigration policy. Board of Education President Steve Zimmer said he has met with families every day since Nov. 9, trying to persuade undocumented immigrants not to pull their kids out of school and flee.
“The worst thing that could happen is that because of fear, dreams are interrupted, families leave, students reach a stress level where it’s destructive to their education,” Zimmer said. “That would be a very, very sad victory of fear over hope, and I say that not as a political statement, but as an educator. We’re always trying to make sure our students are leaning toward hope.”
Shortly after the election, the American School Counselor Association heard from many counselors who weren’t sure how to help students with election-related anxiety. The group released a guide for helping students through election stress—the kind it typically publishes after natural disasters or school shootings. “Honestly I don’t think we’ve ever needed to after a presidential election,” said Executive Director Richard Wong.
Trump, who disparaged immigrants on the campaign trail, has said he plans to deport two to three million undocumented immigrants. But his specific policy plans are unclear. In a recent interview with TIME, he appeared to soften his stance on deporting young people who were brought to the country illegally as children.
“I think that teachers and educators in general—the whole schoolhouse family if you will—is playing a more important role than ever in terms of being a harbor in a tempest,” Zimmer said. “We are sending a very, very clear message in every classroom that you’re safe, our schools are safe and your dreams are important and we believe in you.”
The hotline—which was a preexisting line devoted to health insurance enrollment—will now provide callers with access to legal resources and information about immigration. It will be staffed by social workers and counselors, Student Health and Human Services Executive Director Erika Torres said. In addition to the hotline, LAUSD opened six temporary “extended support sites” that families can visit for emotional support and informational resources.
Zimmer said he hopes the hotline and support centers will help schools reach more families and provide them with helpful information as they plan for their future.
“The feedback that I’m looking for is in people’s eyes. I’m looking for that exhale of, ‘OK, I can unpack, I can stay, I can follow my dreams,” Zimmer said. “We’re looking to alleviate fears.”