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Fear and sadness at Woodlawn when the school was told a student was deported | Inside Woodlawn Ep. 5

When a first-grade student at Woodlawn Elementary hadn’t returned to class a week after Christmas break her teacher suspected something was wrong.

Cristin Severance

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Published: 7:11 PM PST January 29, 2020
Updated: 12:34 PM PST January 31, 2020

When first grade teacher Lionel Clegg saw his student Karen's chair was still empty a week after Christmas break, he knew something must be off with one of his best students.

"I didn't really think nothing of it outside of maybe she's either taking an extended vacation or maybe she's sick," Clegg said.

We never interviewed the quiet, bright 7-year-old during our year-long series about life at Woodlawn Elementary School.

We did get some video of her while filming in Clegg’s class at the beginning of the year, laughing with her friends on school picture day and walking across the playground at recess.

"We had a back-to-school night. Karen was very shy. ... I didn't see her for the first 10 seconds because she's hiding behind her mother and was like a shadow. And then she finally came out behind and her voice was so soft-spoken and so quiet,” Clegg said.

Clegg later learned Karen was hiding behind her aunt. Karen lived in Portland with her dad. Her mother lives in Guatemala, where the family is from.

Karen became more self-assured as the school year progressed, according to Klegg.

"One thing I say in my class all the time is that leaders aren't quiet, so I expect her to speak out. And she would always talk with her hand over her mouth, and I used to — she knew you can't answer a question with me covering your mouth. So, she got into the habit of doing that and I began to see that light shine in her and that confidence build in her before Christmas break," Clegg said.

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Sandra Vasquez-Luna, the secretary at Woodlawn, could see Karen’s confidence growing, too.

"I remember like it was yesterday when she came in to register, she didn't speak English, [her] dad didn't speak English. From last year to this year, this girl has come a long way. She got her English so quickly," Vasquez-Luna said.

Karen had been at Woodlawn since kindergarten.

"She had been with us already over a year, established herself as a great student, a student who was making a lot of progress," said Woodlawn Assistant Principal Alma Velazquez.

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