NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Nashville school district officials say they shouldn’t have described two men they say sought student records at a school as “immigration officials” without confirming they were.
The acknowledgement still leaves wide uncertainty about what happened at Una Elementary. District officials say they haven’t yet found a paper trail or video evidence of the incident, or even pinned down the date it might have occurred.
The prospect of immigration agents seeking records at a school with a big immigrant student population quickly enflamed fears in Nashville, which has seen several high-profile run-ins with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in recent months.
Nashville school district spokeswoman Olivia Brown said the district initially used the term “immigration officials” because “this was the belief of the school staff and district based on the information shared about the incident, but we recognize that this description of the individuals requesting information should not have been shared with the media as a statement of fact without obtaining further confirmation.
“At no time did the district seek to call out this visit and we have made every effort to answer questions honestly and accurately with the information available at the time.”
Mayor John Cooper, who has set up an immigration task force, thinks the incident shows policies involving the city’s interactions with federal immigration authorities need an evaluation, including timely documenting and reporting of those interactions, Cooper spokesman Chris Song said.
In an initial statement to reporters last month, the school district had said “immigration officials” came to the school. A few days later, the district didn’t repeat the term in a statement to media responding to scathing criticism from ICE, which said there was no evidence that its agents visited the school and added that ICE generally does not conduct immigration enforcement at schools.
Instead, the district described “two men in official-looking uniforms” ”stating that they were government agents” with “official-looking IDs” who “had a list of student names and demanded those students’ records.”
In between those two statements, an email obtained by The Associated Press through a public records request shows the district chief of staff spoke with Una Elementary Principal Amelia Dukes. He wrote that Dukes told him she never said the incident was immigration-related, and that Dukes described the men as wearing “military-style outfits.”
Brown says Una Elementary staff haven’t been able to recall when it happened, and the district hasn’t found video or other records because the date remains uncertain. The district has previously said video footage only goes back a few weeks.
Brown said the school “took appropriate action” and the men left when they were told the school couldn’t release the information without permission.
The school didn’t document the incident, copy their badges or record the men’s information, Brown said. Because schools have many visitors, Brown said the visitor log is generally used when visitors enter the main area of the school and is generally not used when visitors only enter the office lobby.
The incident wasn’t initially reported to principal supervisors and was brought to district officials’ attention during an internal meeting this school year, Brown said. The discussion prompted guidance for schools about responding to requests for student information and training for principals, Brown said.
Asked if any changes will be made in response, Brown answered generally that, “Going forward, we will continue to engage with our partners to ensure that schools are prepared for how to handle similar types of situations.”