California is committed to creating a safe environment. Educators are encouraged to ensure that students who could be harmed by deportation, either themselves or by having a parent or other family member deported, continue to thrive and succeed. A 1982 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Plyler vs. Doe, states that school districts cannot deny students an education based on their immigration status. Safe Havens or “Sanctuaries” are local educational agencies (LEAs), which include school districts, county offices of education, and direct-funded charter schools, that have committed themselves to reassuring students, parents and educators that everyone is welcome on school sites, regardless of immigration status. Definitions of “sanctuary” vary from district to district, but in most cases it means that school staff will not allow federal immigration agents on campus without a warrant, subpoena or court order. Any request by immigration agents to enter a campus, or obtain information about students, would have to be approved by the superintendent or the school district’s legal staff.
In December of 2016, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson released a letter encouraging districts to declare themselves “Safe Havens.” Friday, September 22, 2017, at CDE headquarters, Torlakson and the California Department of Education hosted a “Beyond Safe Havens” conference at CDE headquarters. A video of the panel discussion, the list of “safe haven” school districts and other resources can be viewed at https://www.cde.ca.gov/eo/in/safehavens.asp.
As of Sept. 20, 2017, 162 California School districts adopted resolutions declaring they are safe havens for the 2.7 million students they serve. About 6 percent of California’s population are undocumented immigrants (according to Public Policy Institute of California). An estimated 12.3 percent of California’s K-12 school children have at least one undocumented parent. Resolutions are intended to reassure students and their families that schools will offer welcoming environments and will not pass on information about students’ or parents’ immigration status to law enforcement authorities. (California has elementary -K–8, high -9–12, and unified -K–12 school districts. While the number may change annually, in California there are 560 Elementary districts, 87 High School districts, 330 Unified districts for a total of 977 districts).
Some districts have opted to call themselves “safe havens” rather than “sanctuary districts” to avoid the Trump Administration’s threats against sanctuary jurisdictions and remain eligible for federal funding. There is virtually no difference between the terms. Additionally in April, 2017, a federal judge ruled in favor of two California counties (San Francisco and Santa Clara) that sued the president over the order to withhold federal funding or the authority to force local police to carry out federal immigration laws. The Trump Administration has appealed the ruling.