State's schools continue to be save zones

Chris Reykdal

OLYMPIA — Washington state’s kindergarten through 12th grade schools continue to be a safe place for undocumented students.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal reinterated the state’s stance in the wake of comments made May 23 by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

During comments to members of Congress, DeVos said she thinks it’s up to schools and local communities to decide whether principals and teachers have the responsibility to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement if they learn a student or a student’s family members are undocumented.

Her comments brought backlash from civil rights groups and others – such as Reykdal – who pointed to the 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Plyler v. Doe, that found schools can’t deny students access to public education based on their immigration status.

ICE has stated that schools are considered “sensitive locations,” as are churches and other places of worship, where the agency does not conduct immigration enforcement.

“Our students who are undocumented and their families are vital members of our schools and communities,” said Reykdal. “Our schools should be safe places, focused on learning and helping students reach their highest ideals. Schools should never serve as a channel for the federal government to make students feel unsafe.”

The state Constitution also says public schools must serve every student who resides within state borders.

Washington public schools must not initiate engagement with federal immigration authorities for the purpose of sharing student information, Reykdal said.

“It is inconsistent with our state and federal constitutional mandates to serve every student. If federal authorities serve a school with a warrant, schools are to make every effort possible to notify the student’s family before any data is released,” he said. “Our students who are undocumented help make our schools vibrant learning communities filled with diverse ideas and perspectives, which benefits everyone. These students are our students.”

Under the Plyler ruling, public schools:

-May not deny admission to a student based on immigration status.

-May not treat a student differently to determine residency.

-May not engage in any practices that have a “chilling effect” on school enrollment.

-May not require students or families to disclose or document their immigration status, including Social Security numbers.

-May not make inquiries of students or families who may expose their undocumented status. Examples include asking for a student’s status when enrolling the student as an English learner or when enrolling for free or reduced-price meals.

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