(NewsNation) — An assistant principal at Mount Pleasant High School in Providence, Rhode Island, has been placed on paid leave after sending an email to faculty and students requesting thousands of dollars to help settle a human smuggling debt.
On Jan. 26, assistant principal Stefani Harvey sent an email asking for donations to help a student “who came to America with ‘Coyote.'”
Harvey described “Coyote” as a “group that helps people,” although the term typically refers to someone who illegally smuggles migrants across the U.S.-Mexico border.
“This group gives you a time frame to make a payment of $5,000 dollars to those who bring them into the states,” Harvey wrote in the email.
The school administrator said the student needed “urgent support” to raise another $2,000 by February 1.
A representative for the school confirmed to NewsNation that the email did go out to staff and that the principal took steps to issue a retraction.
After calling the request “inappropriate,” the principal at the high school said all funds that had been donated would be returned.
Some Rhode Island parents are outraged.
“The danger and violence of the Mexican cartel quite literally came to the desk of public school teachers and it was sanctioned by their assistant principal and guidance counselor,” said Nicole Solas, a parent from Rhode Island who also works as a senior fellow with Independent Women’s Forum.
The students NewsNation spoke to said they want answers.
“It was not really talked about at all today,” one student told NewsNation. “It came out on like Friday. It wasn’t really talked about today. Especially with a group like that, having things to do with this school, it’s scary.”
On its website, the Mount Pleasant High school mission statement declares: “Mount Pleasant High School provides all learners with a meaningful and purposeful education through a wealth of opportunities to be connected to and feel secure within their school community.”
Solas said school administrators should have notified law enforcement, rather than asking for donations.
“This is a student in public school who is in danger,” said Solas. “His family could be killed in the country where he’s from if he doesn’t pay this money and instead of immediately notifying authorities we’re doing a fundraiser for the Mexican cartel.”
According to a United Nations report, human smuggling is a nearly $6 billion-a-year industry. It’s something Texas Sheriff Roy Boyd regularly sees firsthand.
“What we’re encountering in our area is cartels that have come in — they set up through their operatives, they set up stash sites — and they’re smuggling people through our communities,” said Boyd, who works in Goliad County.
The Rhode Island incident is just the latest evidence of a southern border in crisis as migrant encounters surge to record highs.
Solas called the student’s situation “heartbreaking.”
“We want the best for everybody but we also can’t deny how detrimental this is,” she said.
NewsNation reached out to the Department of Homeland Security for comment but the agency declined our interview request.