Alumni from Berkeley Preparatory School in Tampa, Florida, signed an open letter this week asking the school’s headmaster to condemn U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, an alumna of the school, and her enforcement of the Trump administration’s policy of separating children from their parents.
The letter, signed by nearly 250 current students and alumni of the private school at the time of publication and addressed to the school’s headmaster, Joseph Seivold, notes the school’s creed, “Berkeley puts people in the world who make a positive difference,” and asks that the school condemn Nielsen for not living up to that standard. “Today, we respectfully request that you condemn the policies causing the separation of children from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border, implemented and enforced by Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen—known to us as Kirstjen Nielsen, class of 1990,” the letter stated.
At a Monday White House press conference, Nielsen defended the Trump policy, claiming “the kids are being used by pawns by the smugglers and the traffickers,” and pointed the finger at the U.S. Congress for assigning blame for the policy. Her remarks at the press conference appear to have contradicted her tweet from Sunday in which she falsely claimed that “We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period.” Her Sunday tweet, in turn, contradicted official DHS confirmation last week that nearly 2,000 children had been separated from their families at the border since the administration instituted their “zero tolerance policy”.
In just 17 hours, the group raised more than $1,700 for Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) Texas, according to a link to the Berkeley Preparatory School community group’s GoFundMe campaign page contained in a press release from letter organizers. RAICES Texas is a nonprofit group that “promotes justice by providing free and low-cost legal services to underserved immigrant children, families, and refugees in Texas” according to the organization’s website. The campaign’s goal is set at $5,000.
One of the letter’s organizers, 2013 graduate Megan Magray, told Rewire.News the idea for the letter began with a text she received from another alum galvanizing some 20 former students to act once they realized that Nielsen had become the face of the administration’s policy.
“Kirstjen Nielsen is using children as literal bargaining chips to change the law, and that’s absolutely not how this should work. She could halt this policy today,” Magray said in an interview with Rewire.News. “So it’s incredibly frustrating for anyone who cares about the well-being of children, but it’s even more disheartening to see such a dissonance between what our school purported to teach and what this alum is doing now.”
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Magray notes that Berkeley Preparatory School is a small Pre-K-12 school, with about 120 people in her graduating class. “[I]t affects us all to see someone who was taught by the same teachers, who should theoretically have the same values, enable such violence.”
Seivold, whose biography notes he’s been headmaster at Berkeley since 2011, did not respond to a request for comment.
Magray said the alumni group has concerns that their request for the school to condemn the policy and ask Nielsen to stop enforcing it may come off as “absurd,” but wanted to ask anyway. “[W]e felt it was important to frame our ask as viable in the world we want to see, even if it doesn’t seem like something that would’ve been viable in the past.”