New duties for schools if immigration bills pass

New duties for schools if immigration bills pass

(Calif.) There is little doubt that Gov. Jerry Brown will sign SB 54, the so-called state sanctuary bill that limits how law enforcement in California can cooperate with federal immigration officials.

For local educational agencies, it is probably business as usual—given that most districts have taken the position that California education code as well as some parts of federal law protect student records from inspection without parental consent. Many boards have also instructed security personnel and school police not to cooperate with federal immigration agents on campus.

But there is another bill that district administrators need to be aware of that is also pending before the governor—AB 699 from Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach.

His bill would explicitly include immigration status as one of the characteristics protected from discrimination as part of a student’s right to a public education.

That is, all students in California public schools are afforded “equal rights and opportunities” to an education, free from harassment or intimidation—regardless of immigration status, if the bill becomes law.

AB 699 requires the California Department of Education to monitor LEAs compliance with the new requirement and prohibits school officials and district employees from collecting information on a student’s immigrant’s status except as required by state or federal law. It also requires local superintendents to report to their governing board requests for information on students or access to a school campus.

While there might be some overlap with SB 54, O’Donnell told colleagues last week that harassment of students perceived to be undocumented is on the upswing both nationally and in California.

He cited a survey from the Southern Poverty Law Center taken just after last year’s presidential election that found more than 200 incidents of harassment and intimidation across the country, with schools commonly cited as locations where harassment and intimidation occurred.

One incident took place in Redding, where a student reportedly handed out mock deportation letters to Latino students. Another happened in Sacramento, where a principal had to advise students not to say things that were racist and hateful, according to O’Donnell.

“This bill requires LEAs to educate students about the negative effects of bullying other kids because of their actual or perceived immigration status,” his analysis said. “Under the Safe Place to Learn Act, the CDE is required to monitor a LEA's compliance with the requirement to adopt a policy prohibiting discrimination based on specified characteristics and establish procedures for reporting and addressing bullying and harassment based on those characteristics. This bill clarifies that those policies and procedures include immigration status, as set forth in the Penal Code.”

In many parts of California, efforts to shield immigrant populations from the aggressive policies of the Trump administration have already taken hold. And indeed, many local school boards have declared school campuses as ‘safe havens.’

Still, SB 54 challenges federal policy by formalizing some of those positions.

For instance, the bill would formally prohibit, with specific exceptions, all state and local law enforcement–including school police and security personnel–from using state and local resources to “investigate, interrogate, detain, detect, or arrest persons for immigration enforcement purposes.”

Although Brown and legislative leaders have taken a militant position of opposition against virtually all of the policies that have come out of the Trump White House, they are not alone in standing up to the president on his promise to deport as many as 2 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S.

The high court in Massachusetts ruled earlier this summer that local law enforcement officials did not have the authority to comply with federal immigration detainers—something the state’s GOP governor has sought to remedy with new legislation that would allow it in cases where the targets were charged with serious crimes.

In Illinois, Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican, signed legislation in August that bans local law enforcement—including schools—from stopping, arresting, searching or detaining anyone based solely on immigration status. The Illinois statute also prohibits local police from detaining anyone solely on the basis of a federal immigration detainer, unless federal officials have a criminal warrant.

Connecticut also has a similar law.


As far as schools are concerned, these bills primarily put into statute requirements that exist elsewhere in law, or that reflect current best practices. For example, the 1982 US Supreme Court decision in Plyler v Doe clarified that public schools must serve children regardless of their or their parents’ immigration status. That said, there is value in making explicit the rights of these students and our responsibilities towards them. School board members are committed to ensuring that all students feel safe and welcome on our campuses, so they’ll be prepared to learn.

Nancy Chaires Espinoza, Legislative Advocate 

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