MotherCounty school threatened
August 10, 2005
By Víctor Manuel Ramos
The Mexican family says staff at Glenridge Middle asked their immigration
status; the school denies it.
María Ordoñez went to register her
teenage daughter and son at an Orange County middle school, hoping they would
get a first-rate education, but instead they were threatened with deportation.
Ordoñez, her husband and two children returned Tuesday to Glenridge Middle
School, joined by advocacy group Latino Leadership and surrounded by a swarm of
mostly Spanish-language media. School officials, however, said it was all a
The children were referred to Lee
Middle School, where they will start school today, because Glenridge lacks a
Still, the Ordoñezes and the advocacy group were not happy with the way they say
the school -- straddling the higher-income neighborhoods of Baldwin Park and
Winter Park -- treated the family last week. Even Gov. Jeb Bush chimed in,
commenting that schools should not be concerned with immigration status.
"Saying this was a misunderstanding is an easy way to get out of an embarrassing
situation," Latino Leadership President Marytza Sanz said.
The allegations come months after the state Department of Education faulted
Orange County's public schools because of the way the district dealt with its
immigrant students. After investigating 21 schools, the state this spring
ordered the district to stop asking for immigrant-status documentation because
it violates federal civil-rights laws.
Ordoñez said school officials asked her to provide proof of address, and, when
she returned to the school Friday with appropriate documentation, staff had an
officer from the Orlando Police Department talk to her about the family's
"They put me in a room where they told me that they could deport me with the
children right at that moment," Ordoñez said in Spanish. "They were treating me
as if I had committed some sort of crime."
Ordoñez and her family moved here from Tampa in the past few weeks, after
migrating from Mexico in December. Her husband came to Orlando to work in
construction. The children were registering in American schools for the first
time when they watched as a police officer summoned their mother away.
"We were very scared," said the 13-year-old boy, whose name was not disclosed by
the parents. "I didn't think they would treat us this way, especially in this
School and district officials said a misinterpretation was to blame. They said
the mother was referred to the school resource officer because Glenridge staff
thought he could address her concerns about deportation.
Glenridge Principal Michele Erickson met with the parents and Sanz on Tuesday to
explain what happened and register the children, but all agreed to send them to
Lee Middle, which has a full-day bilingual program.
"We educate all children," Erickson said. "It was a misunderstanding."
The incident comes after the Florida Department of Education ordered Orange
County Public Schools to treat their foreign-born students as they do everyone
else, instead of setting a separate registration process. The state also told
schools not to gather data on immigration status.
Orange schools spokesman Dylan Thomas said the district has made those changes,
announced in March, and the school was simply asking for a proof of address, as
it does from all children. This past school year, more than 10,500 foreign-born
students -- a majority of them native Spanish-speakers -- were enrolled in
Orange County programs that teach English as a second language.
Area Superintendent Ruth Pérez Christian said the school was addressing Ordoñez'
questions. "My conclusion is that mom was nervous and she misinterpreted what
was happening," Pérez Christian said.
Evelyn Rivera, president of the Parent Leadership Council, which represents
families whose children are learning English in Orange County, said the mother's
explanation made more sense to her.
"I would be nervous, too, if I were an illegal immigrant and I go to register my
kids and you take me to the police," Rivera said. "These sensitivity issues have
been raised over, over and over and over again. Evidently, in some schools this
has not been taken seriously."
Víctor Manuel Ramos can be reached at