OLYMPIA– A student’s immigration or citizenship status would be protected and law enforcement officers couldn’t access it without a valid judicial warrant under a bill being considered by a Senate panel.
The bill would clarify the rights and protections for students in public, charter and tribal schools, said Sen. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, the bill sponsor. School officials would not be allowed to collect information about a student’s citizenship status unless it’s required for certain programs or to comply with federal law.
School districts across the state also would be required to provide parents with information about a student’s right to public education regardless of legal status.
“We want to make sure the federal laws and state laws are followed,” Hunt said. “But we also want the students and their families to be secure in attending their schools.”
If law enforcement officers request citizenship status information or access to school grounds, they would be referred to the school superintendent. They would only gain access with a dated warrant signed by a judge.
Cindy Young, a Washington Education Association lobbyist, told the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Committee that students deserve a safe and positive learning environment.
“No child, regardless of their circumstance, should enter a school building and wonder what might happen to them before the end of the day,” she said.
The bill would require school boards to adopt a policy for responding to requests for immigration status, Young said.
But James McMahan, policy director for the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chief, opposed the bill, saying he isn’t aware of any cases in Washington where a student has been detained in school.
The association agrees that students should be protected in school, he said, but disagrees with how the bill tries to accomplish that.
Marie Sullivan, a representative for the Washington State PTA, asked that the bill be amended to recognize a safe zone 500 feet around the perimeter of a school campus. Many parents who are undocumented may be afraid of picking their children up from school, she said.
Many immigrant families are afraid to leave home and participate in everyday activities, including school, said Gayle Mar-Chun, a member of Strengthening Sanctuary Alliance, a faith-based network for immigrants and refugees.
An Urban Institute report showed that children’s health and well-being was harmed by the instability of immigration enforcement, she said.
“We need to make sure that students feel that they’re safe,” she said.
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