Board says LUSD a ‘safe haven’ for undocumented students

Giancarlo Lizarraga, Staff Writer

After a month of deliberation, the LUSD Board voted 5-2 at the March 7 board meeting to approve a resolution that reaffirms the educational rights of undocumented students and promises their safety.

Government actions such as President Trump’s travel ban and the increased support for immigration enforcement prompted California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson to release a letter in December of 2016 encouraging the state’s public schools to remain “safe havens.”

Locally, Lincoln, Stockton, Tracy and most recently Lodi Unified have approved their own motions that declare resistance against providing the U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE) with information regarding the citizenship status of students in their districts.

At the February 7 meeting, LUSD Board member Bonnie Cassel proposed a resolution similar to the ones made by nearby districts.

“My hope is that the resolution passes because I know that we have children in our schools that are indeed afraid because they do have undocumented status,” Cassel said at that meeting.

LUSD’s resolution states that it is backed by laws and policies such as the Plyler v. Doe Supreme Court decision of 1982, which struck down defunding of education for undocumented immigrant children.

“Everybody knows that if a child comes to our schools, we will teach them,” Board President Ron Heberle said. “We will provide services for them.”

Students must have their age and residency verified by the district, but this can be done through a variety of documents not pertaining to immigration status such as baptismal records, tax receipts, or an affidavit from a parent, guardian or custodian. Both Cassel and Heberle confirmed that LUSD doesn’t keep information on which students are undocumented or not.

“It isn’t like ICE could show up and ask for those records,” Cassel said. “We don’t have them.”

The most important point that the district’s resolution makes is that there is no access to student’s records unless the superintendent, Dr. Cathy Nichols-Washer, confers such access with the Board of Education’s permission.

These safeguards are further supported by already existing district policies involving harassment and discrimination.“We want to reassure a child of [their safety] so they can then be free to get an excellent education,” Cassel said about the goals of the resolution.

At the first regular meeting of the Board of Education on February 7, Heberle questioned the necessity of the resolution and whether it was politically motivated. Board member Ron Freitas, however, noted that it is important to show support for the students and families of the community at this stressful time.

Board member Gary Knackstedt, who represents the district area 2 which includes Bear Creek High School, initially said he would support the resolution if the last paragraph was excluded. The last paragraph of the resolution deals with requests for documents or entry to LUSD school sites by immigration officers that will be immediately forwarded to the Superintendent.

Board members Heberle and Dr. Daryl Talken voted against the resolution at the March 7 meeting. Knackstedt took a stronger stance in support of the motion alongside the remaining Board members.

“I believe that [passing the resolution] is absolutely the right thing to do to reassure our families and our children,” Cassel said.