Kent School District bans international travel because undocumented students can't go

KENT, Wash. – A new policy change means no more international field trips for students in the state’s fourth largest school district.

The Kent School District made a change to its race and equity policy in March. That led the board to decide that since some students are undocumented and therefore can’t go out of the country on school field trips, no students are allowed to go.

“It was incredible.  We just dressed up and we played the music,” said Kentlake High School band member Megan Monahan.

For nearly two decades, the Kentlake High School band has gone up to Victoria, B.C., for a school-sanctioned, three-day field trip. But this year…

“It was devastating that we weren’t able to go,” said Monahan.

The school district revised a policy in March ultimately banning all international travel.

“We had students who were having to self-identify (as undocumented), which is contrary to the law, and sit out of a trip that was sanctioned by the district,” said Chris Loftis, Kent School District head of communications.

Loftis said a Supreme Court decision that ruled children of illegal immigrants (or undocumented children) have the right to attend public school. Loftis said  that ruling also says school districts may not ask for documentation nor can it record who is and who isn’t documented.

He added that there have been some instances when kids who were undocumented did not attend some field trips and, in a way, “outed” themselves as being undocumented.

“Bottom line, they can’t leave the country and they can’t get back into the country if they did leave the country,” said Loftis.


So now, because some students who are undocumented can’t go on those field trips, out-of-country school-sanctioned trips are not allowed from here on out.

“Not only for the band kids, because it’s bigger than the band,” said Monahan.

The ban now affects three to four other international trips, including the kids who were supposed to fly to Japan for a student-exchange program.

“The current climate has definitely created a lot of anxiety and debate and discussion across the country,” said Loftis.

But during an informational meeting following the decision, parent and chaperone Tamara Stenman says the district created more segregation instead of inclusion.

“All of these kids at that point I see them turning their heads around looking at each other like who’s documented? Who’s legit? Who’s not?” asked Stenman.

She and other parents and students argue the district is being too cautious, too sensitive, and acted too quickly without their input. Stenman says the last board meeting’s discussion about international travel was buried in the agenda.  She argues the school district made a rushed decision penalizing the students.

“Making sure that a small percentage of students don’t feel left out when there are hundreds of other students or even thousands that could be going on these trips…” said Monahan.

The district hopes those who disagree with their policy change will eventually understand this precedent  Loftis says they are truly practicing what they’ve been preaching for many years -- the core values of the school district.

“You don’t say, OK, this is the right thing to do but we’ve got this exception. If it’s the right thing to do, it’s the right thing to do. And the board made that decision and took the action and made it effective immediately,” said Loftis.

The Kentlake High School band will head to the Lilac Festival in Spokane with an expedited approval process through the school district. Just like with their previously scheduled Victoria trip, each student will pay for his or her own way to the trip. The students have rallied together to figure out the logistics of the new Spokane trip.