Fresno Unified students, parents and community members urged the school board to pass a resolution protecting undocumented students.
People held heart-shaped signs that said “love your neighbor” and “love=safety,” urging Fresno Unified to join districts across the state that have made proclamations to become safe havens – pledging to protect students’ information about their residency status from any potential immigration raids.
Fernando Santillan, a teacher at Edison High School, said the day after Donald Trump’s election to the presidency was “the saddest day” he’s ever had.
“The look of fear, and just of feeling denied by their country, it was overwhelming and it’s something that continues today,” Santillan said. “Being inside the classrooms and seeing how kids have been affected by this – how their demeanor changed and how their performance has changed – it’s something we have to address as a district.”
When it comes to ensuring the safety of all students, it shouldn’t have to be a political decision.
Edison High student Mayahuel Garcia
During Wednesday night’s school board meeting, Mayahuel Garcia, a senior at Edison High, said students call others “illegals” and say things like “go back to Mexico” on campus.
“When it comes to ensuring the safety of all students, it shouldn’t have to be a political decision,” Garcia said. “We can’t focus on our learning if we’re worried about our safety.”
Blaine Roberts, a Fresno Unified parent, said that concerns about a major loss of federal funding or other downsides to becoming a “safe haven” district are unfounded.
While school board president Brooke Ashjian voiced support for a safe-haven resolution made last week by the Fresno County Board of Education, he has previously spoken out against it, saying the district should not become involved in immigration issues.
“Opponents suggest this is somehow radical or ill-advised. This is not true,” Roberts said before the board Wednesday. “Some opponents say that since schools are already off limits to (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) we should not bother. No. That does not justify inaction. We need to bother because the fear and uncertainty are real.”
We have students who really are emotionally distressed over some of the rhetoric and the hate that’s coming from the national level.
Fresno Unified trustee Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas
In December, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson encouraged all California schools to become safe havens, pointing to several existing laws that protect undocumented students. Current laws require schools to enroll children regardless of their citizenship status and prohibit schools from disclosing student information to law enforcement without the consent of a parent or a court order.
The Fresno County Board of Education resolution urged the 32 school districts in the county to do the same.
“Our schools will remain safe and supportive spaces for students and their families, free from intimidation, hostility or violence, including threat of deportation because of participation in the public education system,” that resolution says.
School board members on Wednesday did not discuss passing such a resolution, saying a vote on the matter is slated for next month.
Trustee Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas said a resolution is being prepared, and she was glad to see the community turnout at the meeting.
“There’s a lot of people right now who are really fearful and really not sure of what tomorrow brings, and a lot of that is translating into our students,” she said. “We have students who really are emotionally distressed over some of the rhetoric and the hate that’s coming from the national level.”