With his parents in hiding to avoid being deported, Dominique Razafisaona bore a somber expression as he climbed into math teacher Isabelle Andriot’s red sedan one recent morning to get a ride to school.
Ms. Andriot had rarely seen the 14-year-old middle schooler smile since police cars arrived at his home a month earlier with an order that his family be sent back to Madagascar. But as part of a collective affiliated with the Education Without Borders Network, a coalition opposed to the deportation of school-age children from France, the 32-year-old teacher had been going out of her way to help keep the boy on track.
On this morning, that meant leaving her stone farmhouse before dawn to shuttle him from a relative’s apartment—where he was keeping a low profile as his parents hid elsewhere—across town to Collège Gerard Philipe in time for his 8 a.m. class.
Amid a political debate over illegal immigration that is reminiscent of the one in the United States, Ms. Andriot’s collective in this small city north of Paris and others like it across France have been staging protests and helping shelter families facing deportation. In schools such as Collège Gerard Philipe, identified as one of the 249 most disadvantaged middle schools in the country, such families are not hard to find.
Richard Moyon, a founder of the Education Without Borders Network, said teachers such as he find it “intolerable” that children they have taught for years could be “brutally ripped from their studies” and sent back to poor and sometimes dangerous countries.
“Nothing, strictly nothing, distinguishes a young person without papers from a student who has them,” Mr. Moyon, a high school teacher, said in an interview. “They are our students, our friends.”
Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who has blamed previous lax enforcement for spawning an influx of illegal immigrants, has stressed that while children have the right to be educated regardless of their parents’ status, it is “totally irresponsible” to suggest that families in the country illegally cannot be required to leave.
‘A Very Big Victory’
Still, faced with resistance from the network, the French Interior Ministry announced last school year that it would put off deporting families with schoolchildren until after classes ended in the spring. Then, in mid-June, Mr. Sarkozy issued new guidelines designed to make it easier for some such families to stay, with the understanding that those denied papers would have to leave.
During an application window open through mid-August, the government conducted case-by-case reviews, weighing such issues as how long children had been in French schools. In the end, the government received 33,500 applications, of which fewer than 7,000 were granted, according to figures released in September.
Dominique’s parents were among the majority whose requests were denied. On Aug. 31, they were taken into custody, but a week later they went into hiding after being released on a technicality.
Initially, the children remained with their parents, but they returned to school a week later “under the protection” of the collective, said Dominique’s father, Auguste Razafisaona, who came to France in 2002.
In the ensuing weeks, Mr. Razafisaona and his wife moved every few days among the homes of members of the collective, which is made up principally of teachers, as well as others who share their leftist political views. The collective staged protests before government buildings to press the family’s cause. It also gathered 2,500 signatures on a petition, which noted that the Razafisaonas’ 8-year-old daughter had gone to school exclusively in France, and that Dominique’s 17-year-old brother had received a monetary reward from the French school system for good grades.
On Oct. 19, that pressure appeared to pay off when local authorities reversed the earlier decision. While Mr. Razafisaona had not received formal documentation of his changed status as of last week, the family and the collective were celebrating what Ms. Andriot called “a very big victory.”
Ms. Andriot said the collective would continue to push for papers for similar families. But she said she fears the Razafisaonas’ case would prove “very exceptional.”
“We don’t have a lot of hope,” she said.
A version of this article appeared in the November 01, 2006 edition of Education Week as Teachers’ Network Works To Prevent Deportations