NEWARK -- The School Advisory Board declared Newark schools to be "sanctuaries" for its immigrant students Tuesday night, responding to widespread fears that the new White House will drastically crack down on illegal immigration.
The resolution, which was unanimously approved, underscores the board's commitment to protect immigrant students and ensure every child receives a quality education regardless of legal status.
"I'm a Latina in this city, I come from a family that has ties to the immigrant community so it was something very personal for me," said board vice chair Crystal Fonseca, who pushed the resolution. "Knowing the changes in the political climate right now and how our people specifically are being targeted ... I didn't want to wait on it anymore."
The resolution clarifies that schools cannot share information that could disclose a student's immigration status with federal immigration officials under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA. It also states schools are considered "sensitive locations" by immigration officials meaning enforcement actions should not take place on campuses.
The measure largely reiterates existing policy while expressing support for Newark's immigrant and refugee students.
"Our kids should have a place to go. Kids should feel free to express what their concerns are," Fonseca said. "I wanted to take that stand."
Some students and teachers, however, urged the board to strengthen the resolution and clarify how schools and employees should act if approached by immigration officials.
"A strong statement of support is simply not enough, we require clear legal actions on paper," said Vitor Dos Anjos, a student at East Side High School, who is undocumented but received temporary protection from deportation under President Obama known as deferred action.
Yari Pares, a guidance counselor at East Side High, said President Trump's aggressive immigration policies could ramp up enforcement. He said the district needed to be ready with concrete policies and procedures for its teachers.
"We are at times their first line of defense," Pares said. "Every day I hear how parents are afraid just to walk out of their homes, they're scared when their kids don't arrive at the time they say they're going to arrive. For them there is a fear and uncertainty in the air."
Fonseca said the resolution was the first step the district was taking but would consider new policies to strengthen student protections.
Schools Superintendent Christopher Cerf said he would develop a plan to keep parents and students informed of their rights.
"We are very committed to taking this as far as we can," he said. Cerf sent a letter to parents on Feb. 4 to clarify what information schools ask when enrolling students. Immigration status is not one of them.
Other immigrant-heavy school districts like West New York and New York City have passed similar sanctuary resolutions.
Newark is a sanctuary city, meaning it limits the extent to which local police cooperate with federal immigration agents.
"I do want you to believe that you have support," board member Kim Gaddy told the community on Tuesday night. "It just might not be in the language you want to see."
Karen Yi may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @karen_yi or on Facebook.
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