GUSD Offers Sanctuary to Immigrant Students

Demonstrators made their views known at the last school board meeting and they will next appear at Mondays' city council meeting.

Following the lead of other educators, Gilroy school trustees declared the city’s more than 11,000-student public school system a “sanctuary” district.
The action came as towns and campuses nationwide reacted to President Donald J. Trump’s executive orders regarding immigrants and the issue of foreigners who came here and live in the United States illegally—variously called illegal aliens or undocumented immigrants.
With board president Patricia Midtgaard absent, trustees unanimously passed a resolution that seeks to assure students and families that the district will support them in matters related to immigration enforcement actions at schools – but only to the extent allowed by law.
Some members of the public who addressed the board before the Jan. 26 vote urged trustees to include other issues, such as requiring law enforcement officers to have a warrant before entering a school, staff training to enforce the resolution, bullying, and including other groups in the protective language, such as the LGBTQ community, which stands for lesbians, gays, bi-sexuals, the transgendered and queers.
But board members indicated those matters could be dealt with later, that now was the time to get the resolution as written passed as quickly as possible.
“To do nothing is not acceptable to me,” said acting Board President Linda Piceno.
Noting she is the daughter of undocumented immigrant farmworkers, Piceno suggested timing was more important than including everyone right away.
“I am not willing to not pass this; even if it’s not perfect it shows our commitment to our students and families,” she said.
In an email Tuesday, Board President Midtgaard said, “The Board will follow a defined process to determine if any further modifications to Resolution # 16/17-34 will be forthcoming.”
Requests to modify will first be referred to the board’s Executive Committee, made up of the board president, vice president and the superintendent, according to Midtgaard.
The requests would then be discussed with the district’s legal counsel before being returned to the board for a vote, she said.
The Executive Committee next meets on Feb. 8.
Trustee Heather Bass indicated at the meeting an interest in strengthening the resolution’s language “to accommodate some of the (other) requests of the public.”
Schools superintendent Debbie Flores said the resolution as written could be put into place “immediately” and revisited for possible modification.
As presented to board, she said, it “has been carefully reviewed by county counsel and our legal counsel.”
Citing various federal laws and policies, the resolution states, in part, “Whereas, the Gilroy Unified School District Board of Education concurs with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s conclusion that schools are sensitive locations and that enforcement actions at schools should be discouraged…Be it further resolved that…(Gilroy) schools and programs be considered sanctuaries for students to the fullest extent allowed by law…”
The resolution as passed was a “common” document drafted by the Santa Clara County Board of Education and endorsed for passage as written by 27 of the county’s school districts, according to Flores.
In recent letters to California school districts, before and after the President’s executive orders, State Superintendent of schools Tom Torlakson urged efforts to make schools “safe havens” for students.
“I strongly disagree with President Trump’s recent immigration order and want to make sure that our students and families who are refugees and Muslims feel safe and protected in our schools,” Tolakson wrote.
“California public schools welcome all students regardless of their heritage, religion, ethnicity, background, disability, or sexual orientation,” he added.
President Trump also has indicated that cities, and by inference school districts, that violate federal immigration laws potentially could lose federal funding.
This school year, GUSD is slated to receive nearly $14.6 million in federal funds, according to Assistant Superintendent for Business Services Alvaro Meza, the district’s chief financial official. He does not believe the district is in jeopardy of losing federal funding, he said.
The money is from the U.S. Department of Education, $9.3 million; Health and Human Services, $656,000; and Agriculture, almost $4.5 million.
It pays, in part, for Special Education, migrant, summer school, and teacher development and health program and school meals.
While some speakers at the Jan. 26 board meeting spoke harshly of Trump, no board member spoke either critically or in defense of the new president per se.
“I think the adopted resolution makes clear that the District supports the students and families who are concerned about immigration enforcement actions at school,” trustee James Pace said in an email this week.
“ Children should feel safe when they are at school. The superintendent and staff are now tasked with implementing the resolution, which may include some of the ideas suggested at the board meeting. If an additional resolution is needed, we can cross that bridge when we get to it,” he said.
Trustee Mark Good said in an email that he will not ask that the resolution be revisited and opined that some of what members of the public want is against the law.
“I believe it is sufficient as is and compliant with the law. I do not believe that some of the requests I heard and (that were) requested to be included are legal,” he said.
“For example, requiring law enforcement officers to have a warrant before entering school grounds. Can you imagine officers responding to a school crisis or active shooter situation? Many other stated requests had nothing to do with immigration and I think the resolution as adopted is fine,” he said.
In its summary of the need for the resolution, GUSD in its meeting agenda wrote, “The District is committed to the success of all students. This resolution will reaffirm focus on promoting and elevating tolerance, inclusiveness, individualism, equity, unity, and diversity by resolving to work closely with the City, County, and other state and local municipalities and community organizations to ensure students and families are offered a protected space. In addition, the resolution reaffirms the continuation of past District practices regarding immigration enforcement activities and student files.”
Among those who urged passage of a stronger resolution, and was critical of the President, was Rebecca Armendariz of Gilroy.
Passage of a “safe haven” resolution, she said, is “a very good start.”