The trustees overseeing Santa Rosa City Schools voted unanimously last week to declare the district a “safe haven” for immigrant families, meaning no federal immigration officers will be allowed on campus without the written approval of district Superintendent Diann Kitamura.
The move on Wednesday has been in the works since the day after the November election, said Jenni Klose, the board president, who said it was prompted by fears and anxiety generated by President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign trail promises to build a wall between the United States and Mexico and vow to deport millions of undocumented immigrants.
“There were first-graders telling their teacher that they were afraid that if Trump were elected, they would be, or their parents would be, taken away,” Klose said. “They wondered why someone running for president hated Mexicans like them, and that anxiety has been pretty widespread.”
The Santa Rosa City Schools district, the largest in Sonoma County, is the first local district known to have voted on such a resolution, according to the county Office of Education. SCOE itself is considering something similar for its special and alternative education programs.
Since the election, many districts throughout California have approved “safe haven” resolutions, including Los Angeles Unified School District — the state’s largest — and Sacramento Unified School District. The move is largely symbolic, as Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials consider schools “sensitive” sites, and so don’t carry out raids on campus, according to a November report in the Los Angeles Times.
Still, in December, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson sent a memo encouraging school districts throughout California to follow through in passing such measures.
“Children need to feel safe,” Kitamura said. “We want to reassure our students and their families that they have the legal right to be in our public schools, whatever their immigration status.”
Cesar Chavez Language Academy parents learned of the decision Friday morning from Principal Rebekah Rocha.
While the district has no formal way of tracking how many of its students are undocumented, Rocha said, at least at CCLA, a dual-immersion school with native English and Spanish speakers, a “high percentage” of Latino parents are undocumented, while more often than not, the students were born in the United States.
On Friday, parents were meeting on campus for a monthly coffee with Rocha when she told the crowd about the resolution. The sense of relief was palpable, she said.
“It’s not a message that this community is used to hearing, that we’re with you, that we support you, that we’re in solidarity with you,” she said. “That’s how I explained it to them, that this district, this is where we stand, with you. They were very grateful. Even just saying that message has meaning.”
Eloina Larios, 39, was among those CCLA parents Friday.
Larios, who lives in Santa Rosa with her family, and whose two sons attend the academy, is undocumented.
Her family came to the United States from central Mexico in 2004, when her daughter, now 18, was just 5.
The board’s vote, she said, is really important.
“I feel more calm and I feel more sure about everything,” she said in Spanish. “Everything is calmer knowing I can go to campus, and that my daughter can go to school and that nothing will happen to her there.”