Editor’s note: See correction below article.
Parents at a heavily-Hispanic elementary school in Mount Rainier are angry after a permission slip for a fourth-grade field trip to the White House required students to provide proof of citizenship if they wanted to attend.
The permission slip was first circulated to fourth-grade students at Thomas Stone Elementary School in Mount Rainier on April 23, 2019. The trip was planned for May 28. The trip was approved by officials at the Prince George’s County Public School System before the slip was sent out, and the school had already contracted with a bus company for transportation. The sponsoring teachers were Annie Whitfield and Huaying Chen. The permission slip included typical form entries, such as name, date of birth and home address. But in bold, it also asked parents to check a yes-or-no box indicating if their children were U.S. citizens. If parents answered no, the form instructed to provide passport information. Below that, the permission slip concluded in bold:
“If a scholar is not classified as a U.S. citizen, they will not be able to attend the field trip.”
As of May 1, the trip has been cancelled. Parents at the school are demanding answers about how the permission slip was created, and why the citizenship requirement was included on the permission slip. Late in the afternoon on May 1, Thomas Stone Principal Ashanti Foster issued a recorded apology to parents, delivered by voice mail.
“I am aware that the parent permission form for the White House trip raised some concerns about every student being able to attend. The permission form did not reflect our values as a learning community and for that I apologize,” said Foster in the voicemail. “Please know that we want all scholars to have exposure to opportunities outside of our school community. School participation and presence in the learning process is so very important to our mission.”
The full audio of Foster’s voice mail is below:
Thomas Stone Elementary School is 70 percent Hispanic, according to federal school data compiled by Goodschools.org.
While the permission slip had been circulating since April 23, its existence was thrust into the spotlight by Brentwood Mayor Rocio Treminio-Lopez, who shared images of the permission slip in Facebook posts May 1, 2019.
“Last night, I received a message from a mom worried that the fourth graders have a field trip to the White House and teachers are asking that the children be citizens because if they are not they will not be able to attend,” wrote Treminio-Lopez. “I wonder why they make this discrimination among 4th grade children. I have too many questions.”
The White House’s website for tours and events says all guests over 18 must present a valid government-issued photo ID in order to enter, and that all foreign nationals must present their passport. This guidance has been in place since the Obama administration, according to archived versions of the site stored by The Internet Archive.
In the thread below Tremnio-Lopez’s remarks about the permission slip, District Two County Councilor Deni Taveras chastised Treminio-Lopez for bringing the issue up on social media.
“Rather than going to social media just call me. I took care of the situation last night. The trip to the White House has been cancelled. They will redesign the trip without this portion so that all kids can attend,” said Taveras.
“Thank you for taking care of this problem, but you know we have more than one issue going on at that school,” replied Treminio-Lopez. “I posted on social media to not only make this issue known locally but rather nationally, because institutional racism needs to stop.”
“There is a greater responsibility in being careful about what and how you post. We don’t want to be in a situation where parents are pulling their kids out of school out of fear without need,” said Taveras later in the thread.
This is not the first time Foster’s leadership of Thomas Stone Elementary School has come under fire from Treminio-Lopez for handling issues related to undocumented Brentwood and Mount Rainier residents. After the first day of school saw crowds of parents wait hours to meet their student’s teachers, Treminio-Lopez criticized Foster for unnecessarily enforcing an ID requirement for parents and guardians to enter the building. Later, Prince George’s County Public Schools confirmed that Foster did not apply an exemption in the county’s visitor ID requirements for assemblies and other large events such as the first day of school.
Attempts to reach officials at Prince George’s County Public Schools and the White House Press Secretary’s Office for comment on this story were not successful as of this writing.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly located the school in Brentwood. Thomas Stone Elementary is located in Mount Rainier.