By Jason Chen
On Jan. 26, the Alameda Unified School District (AUSD) Board of Education unanimously voted to pass a resolution to declare itself a “safe haven,” guaranteeing that it will protect the identities of undocumented students, as well as their families. This falls in line with the city of Alameda’s Jan. 20 resolution that affirms its status as a Sanctuary City. This move is not unprecedented: In December of last year, California’s State Superintendent of Schools, Tom Torlakson, publicly encouraged all school districts in the state to declare themselves as safe havens.
The school district’s resolution also falls in line with the “Everyone Belongs Here” Campaign, which AUSD launched last year in cooperation with other Alameda organizations to assert the city’s commitment to creating safe spaces for its diverse body of students.
AUSD’s Superintendent Sean McPhetridge has also reaffirmed the school district’s dedication to providing safe educational environments to all students, regardless of ethnicity, national origin, race, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, or immigration status. He has gone on record saying, “We are a diverse and inclusive school district and want to support and protect our students and families. Children need to feel safe to learn, and we aim to create a safe environment to the best of our ability.”
Alameda’s declaration of Sanctuary Status comes shortly after the inauguration of President Trump, who has vowed to identify and deport millions of undocumented immigrants. However, Alameda stands to lose anywhere between $2.5-$3 million in federal funds for this declaration, which some view to be a hefty consequence.
Fortunately, these potential financial losses will not affect the school district, according to AUSD Senior Manager Susan Davis. She makes it clear that, “A loss of federal funds for the city won’t affect our funding. We do receive a small amount of funding from the U.S. Department of Education, but so far no threats have been made against districts that have declared themselves safe havens.”
Under California state law, all children—regardless of documentation—have a right to an education. As such, the AUSD does not collect records relating to the citizenship of its students. This also means that the school district will have no information to provide to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents if such materials were requested.
Though this single school district does not have the power to singlehandedly change federal policies, its Jan. 26 resolution ensures that the administration will try its best to resist the President’s anti-immigration protocols. According to Davis, ICE personnel would be required to either have a warrant or receive advanced approval before entering school district sites.
Teachers at Alameda High are also in favor of AUSD’s new Safe Haven status. AP Government teacher Allison Goldberg admits that there may be a few people in the district that may not support the Jan. 26 resolutions, but that there isn’t a lot of negative response from the community in general.
Goldberg feels that “the whole notion that somehow you’re making society safer or function better by rounding up undocumented people…I just don’t buy that argument. Most undocumented people are doing no harm to society.”
She actually thinks that allowing ICE agents unfettered access to schools is harmful, as it forces students to live in the shadows in fear that they will be deported. Goldberg argues that this kind of stress affects kids’ ability to learn and makes it clear that Sanctuary Cities and Safe Haven school districts would help mitigate these fears.
That idea seems to be the basis of the AUSD Safe Haven Resolution, which explicitly designates schools as “sensitive locations” under an ICE 2011 policy. As such, ICE agents will not be allowed to conduct immigration enforcement activities unless both federal law enforcement officials and the AUSD Superintendent give written permission. The resolution also makes clear AUSD’s commitment to tolerance by allocating resources for the promotion and support of diversity and by ensuring that school curriculum emphasizes the fair treatment all people.
The next four years may be a challenge for blue states like California, though these Sanctuary City and Safe Haven Resolutions jointly demonstrate the city government’s dedication to the preservation of society’s multicultural identity and the protection of local students’ basic rights.