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SF public schools add protections for undocumented students

Michael Barba | May 24, 2017 | SF Examiner

Original article

Students in San Francisco spearheaded a policy approved Tuesday at the Board of Education that further protects undocumented students and families from federal immigration authorities under President Donald Trump.

The resolution is derivative of The City’s ordinance that makes San Francisco a sanctuary city, but specifically limits cooperation between school officials and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, while adding services for undocumented students in particular for the first time.

“We’re taking a bold step here,” said Board of Education President Shamann Walton. “There are things that we wanted to go back and forth on over the last couple of weeks. We wanted to do the best to support our students but do that within the law.”

The news comes just one day after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo continuing the threat to federal funding for cities and jurisdictions that restrict local officials from disclosing a person’s immigration status.

However, Sessions narrowed the potential funding loss to grants from the Department of Homeland Security and Justice Department.

Under the resolution, San Francisco Unified School District officials cannot require students or families to disclose their immigration status, and are also restricted from cooperating with ICE investigations or “providing information or consenting to access to student records.”

Those restrictions only apply if ICE does not have a court order or warrant from a state or federal judge, in which case the resolution calls for the district to explore legal challenges.

“The goal is to ensure that our district is not cooperating with immigration authorities in ways that put any of our students or employees in danger while also not instructing anyone to do anything that might have them break the law,” said Commissioner Matt Haney.

Walton and Haney co-sponsored the resolution with student delegates Maria Zaragoza and Jessica Eng.

The Board of Education voted unanimously in favor of the resolution to applause from a packed board room after Zaragoza challenged any other school district to draft more comprehensive sanctuary school legislation.

Zaragoza, an 18-year-old senior at June Jordan School for Equity, has family members who have different degrees of documentation, inspiring her to gather more than 20 students from at least three high schools in the district to work on the resolution.

“My family is mixed-status and this is something that is part of me,” Zaragoza said.

Haney amended the resolution because of legal concerns with the restrictions on ICE cooperation as initially written. The other concern, raised at the meeting Tuesday, was over the budget implications.

The resolution creates stipended positions for an “Immigrant and Refugee Liaison” at all middle and high schools in the district as well as
training for teachers and staff based on supporting undocumented students.

The school board was split 4-3 against capping spending at $200,000 in the resolution, which district staff previously estimated that it would cost to roll out.

While supportive of the sentiment, commissioners Emily Murase, Hydra Mendoza-McDonnell and Rachel Norton were concerned about the spending during a tight budget year.

“I have made a public commitment — a very public commitment — that my first priority in this budget is raising salaries,” Murase said. “I have tried to be very disciplined in this budget process.”

While not in the resolution, Walton said the board would limit spending to $200,000 outside the legislation.

Commissioner Mark Sanchez said he is more worried about the implementation of the resolution than the costs, and asked staff to report back at the beginning of next year.

“We don’t want to be on the record as supporting something that is going to keep our students safe, and not actually do it,” Sanchez said.

New Superintendent Vincent Matthews did not comment on the resolution, which amounted to a non-controversial discussion for San Francisco government.

The Board of Education has previously approved legislation protecting undocumented students, such as a 2007 resolution affirming that undocumented students are not denied schooling.

But this resolution has more comprehensive guidelines for schools, and is a first in terms of staffing.

“For the first time we will have a point person at every middle and high school who will be there to provide support resources and information to undocumented and immigrant students,” Haney said. “That’s huge.”

Page updated on 05/24/17