Students who are undocumented immigrants and their families will find a “safe haven” in the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District thanks to a policy approved Tuesday night.
The district’s Board of Education voted 4-0 to adopt a resolution that schools “will remain safe places for learning and teaching for all students, regardless of immigration status,” Superintendent Mark Richardson said.
Board member Jack Garvin was absent from the meeting.
Dr. Carol Karamitsos, board president, called the item “super important for our students, our families and our community as a whole.”
“Under the law, all students have the right to attend public school and enjoy access to equitable educational and programmatic services, regardless of the immigration status of the students or of the students’ family members,” Richardson added.
The resolution noted that the Santa Maria Valley is the home and workplace to many of immigrants, including people with both documented and undocumented immigration status.
Students and parents have expressed fear, anxiety and confusion regarding the ability of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to enter district property to determine legal status of students and their families, the district’s resolution added.
“I think we’d like to see, as a board, that this be made public as soon as possible to the community to allay any fears or anxieties that are out there,” Karamitsos added after the vote.
Board member Diana Perez said she appreciated the school staff for allowing her to bring forward the policy for approval.
The policy means any request for documents or access to district school sites by an immigration enforcement officer would be forwarded to the Superintendent’s Office for review “to ensure the safety of all students, as well as compliance with applicable state and federal laws,” the resolution said.
Additionally, the district “will not release information regarding immigration status or related matters contained in pupil records to federal agencies or other authorities enforcing immigration laws without the permission of the student’s parent or guardian or pursuant to a judicial warrant, subpoena, court order or as otherwise required by law.”
The local vote came 10 days before President-elect Donald Trump takes office amid campaign promises of a crackdown on undocumented immigrants, and a month after state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson urged California public schools to be declared “safe havens.”
“Unfortunately, since the presidential election, reports of bullying, harassment, and intimidation of K-12 students based on immigration status, religious, or ethnic identification are on the rise,” Torlakson said in the letter distributed last month to county and school district superintendents, charter school administrators, and principals.
“As state superintendent of public instruction, safety is my top priority. And my strongest commitment to you, your students, and their families is that schools remain safe places to learn,” Torlakson added, noting the state has more than 6.2 million kindergarten through 12th-grade students.
The California Department of Education pledged to provide local districts with guidelines about laws protecting student records, including the 1984 Plyler v. Doe U.S. Supreme Court decision that requires schools to enroll all eligible children regardless of immigration status.
While schools must verify a student’s age and residency, they have extensive flexibility in what documents are used, and do not need to use anything pertaining to immigration status, state officials said.
Additionally, no records can be released to law enforcement without a parent’s written permission, a court order, or a subpoena. Schools should not collect or maintain any documents pertaining to immigration status, Torlakson added.
The Santa Maria vote came on the heels of similar actions by others, including the Los Angeles Unified School District and the Sacramento City Unified School District, declaring themselves safe haven.