By July 2018, school districts throughout California are required to adopt policies that protect the rights of nearly 250,000 undocumented children ages 3-17 in California’s public schools.
These policy additions follow requirements from a new state law, Assembly Bill 699, approved by the California Legislature in 2017, which established procedures for visits by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents at school sites. The policies are meant to ensure that all students, regardless of immigration status, have access to equitable learning environments.
This month, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra released a guideline, as required by the new law, which included model policies to help California’s public schools protect the rights of undocumented students and their families.
The guideline details how school officials should handle student and family information, respond to hate crimes, react to the deportation of a student’s family member and interact with immigration officials on campus. It also includes a section for families titled “Know Your Educational Rights.”
“Every student, regardless of immigration status, is entitled to feel safe and secure at school,” Becerra said in a statement. “It’s our duty as public officials and school administrators to uphold the rights of these students so that their education is not disrupted.”
The model policies also describe how to respond to information requests about immigration status, to warrants or court orders about immigration enforcement and to immigration agents requesting access to school grounds.
Becerra’s guideline also cites the U.S. Supreme Court case Plyler v. Doe, which ruled that children have a constitutional right to equal access to education and can’t be denied public education on the basis on their immigration status of their parents or guardians.
With the release of Becerra’s model policies, California school districts now have three months to adopt the same or similar policies to comply with state law.
“We would always do what we need to do comply with laws,” Sulphur Springs Union School District Governing Board President Ken Chase said.
Some California districts have already adopted similar policies following recommendations from the California School Boards Association (CSBA).
“Obviously, we have a concern about the well-being of all of our students so we would obviously comply with any laws and mandates,” Newhall School District Governing Board President Phil Ellis said. “We’ve already got policies on that in place and they might already comply with that law. A lot of our policies are based on drafts put together by the CSBA and most school districts that are a member of that do that too. We review those (CSBA policies) and add to them and subtract from them as needed.”
Last year, three Santa Clarita Valley school districts—the Newhall district, the Castaic Union School District and the Saugus Union School District—took action to assure its families that all students are welcome on campus.
In February 2017, the Castaic district passed a resolution declaring itself a “Safe Haven School District.”
The resolution stated that, under the law, all students have the right to attend public school regardless of the immigration status of the students or of the students’ family members.
It also stated that the district would review its record-keeping policies and practices to ensure that no data related to immigration of place of birth is being collected “unless expressly required by law,” and that any immigration enforcement requests to request student information or contact students would be referred to the superintendent’s office.
The Newhall district shared a similar message with its school community in March 2017, when it sent a letter to parents “clarifying the issues around enforcement actions to alleviate fears that enforcement actions might take place on school campuses.”
The district’s Governing Board was considering passing a similar resolution as the Castaic district, but opted to send the letter to parents instead.
“We did discuss this resolution, but decided that a direct letter parents would be a better vehicle to alleviating concerns,” Ellis said. “The letter we sent out was a little different focus. We wanted to make this more direct and more meaningful to our parents.”
In May 2017, the Saugus district also chose to send a letter to its parents about immigration enforcement activities in its schools.
The letter said that the district does not collect data related to students’ immigration status, that the district will not participate in potential federal enforcement actions and that it will not allow immigration enforcement officers or agents on campus without permission from the superintendent.
“Saugus’ record of excellence is built on ensuring a safe, welcoming environment for students and their families,” the May 2017 letter read. “The district will continue providing every student the best education possible with the full participation of parents in all school activities and events.”
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