ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Soon after the ICE raids, Americans saw pictures of weeping children. Kids in Mississippi, who were supposed to be enjoying their first week of school, instead learned their parents had been taken away.
CHAD HARRISON: So we actually started school on Tuesday. So I might be a kindergarten kid at school on Tuesday. And then on Wednesday, this is what I'm dealing with.
SHAPIRO: That's Chad Harrison, assistant superintendent of the Scott County School District. Since Wednesday's raids, many of the parents have been released. Others are still locked up. Harrison says the school system received no warning on Wednesday and did not see this coming.
HARRISON: We were surprised. And the first notification that we had to know something was going on is we had lots of Hispanic students checking out of school. So at that point, we began to figure out what was going on because we were getting phone calls, telling us that some of the plants had been raided and so forth. And so we had a pretty good understanding of what was going on right there. But I would say of the 500 kids that we have in the school zone who are Hispanic, I would say that probably 50% of those kids checked out of school early that day.
HARRISON: So our major concern at this point when we heard that the apprehensions were taking place was just to, number one, make sure that our students had a safe place to go when school was out.
HARRISON: Now, we knew that some of those kids being checked out of school were going with people who were on their checkout list. All that was validated. We knew that was going to be OK. But...
SHAPIRO: Relatives and friends.
HARRISON: Yes. The kids that were left at school, we were concerned about, number one, a bus going to their house and nobody being at their house. We were concerned about the car riders, no one to come in and pick them up. We were concerned about the kids who walk not having anyone at home. So one thing that we did was we told our school bus drivers, look. If nobody's there, if you don't make visual contact with someone, bring the kids back to the school.
SHAPIRO: And did a lot of kids come back to the school?
HARRISON: We didn't have any. We were very blessed. We didn't end up in a situation where we had anybody come back. We spent a lot of time that day and over the next few days reaching out to our Hispanic community, just making sure that our kids had somebody at home that was a relative and a caregiver.
SHAPIRO: That was two days ago, so now it's Friday. Do you still have kids who've not been reunited with their parents?
HARRISON: I don't know that we are aware of any that have not been reunited yet. But when you talk about that large number of kids, it would be difficult to say that there was not any. I know this. Thursday, we had 154 Hispanic children who were absent. Today that number is 50, so we've had more kids come to school. And what we've done is we've telephoned. We've gone to homes. We've tried to encourage them to be at school. We've tried to tell the kids, hey. School is a safe place for you to be.
Ari, we've got three priorities at school. Our first priority, I think, is to make sure that the kids know they're loved and cared about. I think our second is to make sure they're safe. Our third is to provide a quality education. And right now we're just worried about phase one and two.
HARRISON: And we want them to know that they're safe. And we've also tried to reach out to those communities and let them know that we have different organizations who are there to help them. We know that right now is a time of need for them because we've got people that are not working right now, which means they can't provide basic needs that they have.
SHAPIRO: Oh, so even if the parents were arrested and released, they can't go back to work. And they don't have any income.
HARRISON: That's our understanding - till they're processed and can get reinstated and so forth. So they're home but not allowed to work right now. So we've got organizations that have really stepped up and are trying to make sure that those people are taken care of, that their basic needs are taken care of.
SHAPIRO: I imagine it's a tough time for teachers and students to stay focused, whether or not their own families were affected by this.
HARRISON: There's no doubt. And our teachers in that school zone, they've been so used to dealing with this population. And our teachers' hearts really go out to what's going on right now. We understand immigration law. We do. We're not here to debate that. I understand that there's a need to enforce those laws. But our job, though, in the schools is to take care of our kids. And right now we do have some kids who are affected. So I feel like we're doing what we need to do by trying to do the best we can to make sure those kids' needs are met.
SHAPIRO: Chad Harrison, thank you for speaking with us today.
HARRISON: You're welcome.
SHAPIRO: And he is the assistant superintendent of the Scott County School District in Mississippi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.