Arlington Heights students skip class, businesses close early in ‘Day Without Immigrants’ protest
Hassan Abed, the owner of the Star Market convenience store in Mount Prospect, said he decided to close up shop six hours earlier than usual to show support for the nationwide "A Day Without Immigrants" protest Thursday. (Karen Ann Cullotta / Pioneer Press)
Thousands of students were absent from classes and some local businesses were shuttered across the northwest suburbs on Thursday, as local residents joined forces to show solidarity with the national "A Day Without Immigrants" protest.
More than 1,000 of the 6,700 students who attend pre-K through eighth grade classes at Wheeling-based Community Consolidated School District 21 were absent on Thursday, compared with just 364 students absent on Wednesday, officials said.
"We did have higher levels of students absent today, and we had some parents who shared that they were taking their children out of school for the protest," said Kara Beach, a communication specialist for District 21.
Similar protests unfolded in cities and villages across the country as organizers behind the "A Day Without Immigrants" encouraged strikes and boycotts to protest recent hard-line immigration policies and showcase the importance of immigrants to the U.S. economy.
In Arlington Heights-based Township High School District 214, officials said that some parents indicated they were calling their students out of school as a way to take part in the national protest.
School officials said only 86 percent of students attended classes Thursday at Wheeling High School, while 88 percent of students at Elk Grove High School and 89 percent at Rolling Meadows High School attended classes — down roughly six percent from the 94 percent average attendance rate over the past five months, officials said.
Students who were called out by parents were marked with a parental excused absence, meaning that they were absent for a reason that has been approved by the parent, such as when a student is excused for an illness or other reasons, said District 214 spokeswoman Jennifer Delgado.
Officials with Elgin-based School District U-46 said that 85 percent of the district’s almost 40,000 students attended classes on Thursday, down eight percent from the 93 percent attendance rate on Wednesday.
Some parents explained they were participating in the "A Day Without Immigrants" protest when they called their school’s attendance office, said District 46 spokeswoman Mary Fergus.
In a weekly column for staff members that was posted to the district’s website on Thursday, District 46 CEO Tony Sanders wrote how the district "certainly felt the impact" of the protest day.
"I want to use the occasion of A Day Without Immigrants to clarify that public school districts serve any students who reside within the district’s geographic boundaries," Sanders wrote. "In 1982, the United States Supreme Court ruled that states cannot deny access to a free public education for any student, regardless of immigration status (Plyler v. Doe). This is the law of the land and we affirm it in U-46."
Sanders also wrote that at three of the district’s elementary schools, attendance was just 70 percent.
At Palatine High School, principal Gary Steiger made an announcement just before the end of the school day on Wednesday, urging students not to skip class and recognize the "A Day Without Immigrants" in a positive way.
"Many of our student leaders from our Palatine community have approached me throughout the day about things they saw on social media about not attending school tomorrow," Steiger said. "They and I would like to take this opportunity to personally encourage all students to be in school tomorrow and remind you that we believe everyday at PHS is an important one."
Instead of taking the day off, Steiger urged students to get involved in the high school’s Palatine Political Action club and other activities that promote cultural awareness, as well as showing their support for each other by donning their Pirate spirit wear.
Marilu Velasquez, 33, an Elgin resident and an employee at the Star Market convenience store in Mount Prospect, said after much deliberation, she allowed her two teenage daughters to stay home from school on Thursday to show support for the protest.
"They were getting calls from all their friends last night, so I finally said ‘yes,’" said Velasquez, who said she immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico when she was 9 years old.
"I think it’s important for them to support our culture, and they know what’s going on right now, and that a lot of families are going to be hurt if they are split apart," Velasquez said.
Hassan Abed, 28, the owner of the three Star Market convenience stores, including the Mount Prospect store where Velasquez is employed, said while he typically stays open until 10 p.m. on Thursday nights, he decided to close just after 3 p.m. to show support for his customers — the majority of whom are Latino immigrants.
"I’m Muslim, and even though my family is from Jerusalem, I had a family member who flew into O’Hare last week and was questioned for about two hours to make sure she was not from Syria before they said it was OK for her to enter," Abed said.
"For Muslims, we’re having problems at the airports, and for my Latino employees and customers, they have to listen to the president talking about building a wall and ICE checkpoints," said Abed, who was born in the U.S. "Both groups are kind of dealing with all of this, and my hope is that President Trump changes his mind so everyone can live here with freedom."