Sacramento school district may become ‘safe haven’ fighting deportation, hate speech

Article Sacramento Bee

Sacramento City Unified School District trustees will vote Thursday on whether to declare itself a “safe haven” that will protect students fearful of deportation or hate speech, joining a growing number of districts around the state taking action after the presidential election.

The resolution comes as a direct response to the “intolerant rhetoric made over the course of the 2016 presidential race” and reports of increased hate speech at district schools, according to the proposal.

The three-page resolution specifies that immigration officials cannot enter campuses without written permission of the superintendent and that the district will restrict sharing of student files that could help determine the legal status of students. It also calls for activities on all campuses to promote tolerance and urges investments in programs to promote the “values of a multicultural society.”

Almost immediately after Republican Donald Trump’s presidential victory, Sacramento City Unified School District trustees began hearing from parents, teachers and administrators that children were terrified that they were going to be deported, said board member Jessie Ryan. She said that was accompanied by an upswing in hate speech in the district, which serves about 43,000 students at 76 schools.

“We decided to move forward quickly,” said Ryan, who organized and led the safe haven initiative. “We needed to acknowledge to families, parents and community members that a lot of people are hurting right now, and our role is to ensure that students feel safe so they can come to school to learn. We needed to step up and make a strong statement that we would do everything in our power to protect our students.”

The Sacramento proposal follows initiatives at other urban districts around the state. San Francisco public schools, along with Mayor Edwin M. Lee, last week advised parents that immigration enforcement could grow under Trump but that San Francisco Unified was developing a “rapid response protocol to support children and families” if enforcement is attempted in or around schools.

The Los Angeles Unified School District, citing “a climate of heightened fear and anxiety for many district students and their families,” voted in February to identify its school sites “safe zones and resource centers for students and families threatened by immigration enforcement.” San Diego Unified trustees were set to discuss safeguards for undocumented youth this week.

In the North Sacramento area, Twin Rivers Unified School District Superintendent Steven Martinez and trustees “are in discussion about how to approach” safe haven issues, said spokeswoman Zenobia Gerald.

Julia Harumi Mass, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Northern California, said the federal government has a longstanding policy of designating schools as sensitive locations “because all students in California have the right to go to public schools, regardless of their immigrant status.” She said she hopes that the federal government will maintain a policy that avoids immigration enforcement efforts at sensitive locations such as schools and places of worship.

The California School Boards Association has helped districts research sanctuary school issues but has not provided a sample policy, said spokesman Troy Flint.

“That’s something we’ll be discussing as this situation becomes more urgent,” he said.

A statewide multiracial coalition of community, civil rights, education and labor groups signed an open letter to the state’s educational leaders asking that all public schools in California, from kindergarten to higher education, be designated sanctuary schools.

Other trustees have voiced support.

“It’s important for Sacramento City Unified to reiterate that we’re focused on the education of every child who resides in our district, regardless of their immigration status, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion and that’s what this resolution does,” said Trustee Jay Hansen.

Incoming Trustee Mai Vang, who will be sworn in Thursday, called the resolution “a great starting point,” and will urge that it be implemented in partnership with community organizations.