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Charter Schools and Immigration Enforcement

Charter Schools and Immigration Enforcement

Reports of increased U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) enforcement activity have caused concerns in communities across California and the nation.  The following practical guidance may help charter schools support their students and families with regard to such activities, particularly as they may affect school sites and operations.

  • Hold an informational “town hall” event.

The school may host meetings at the school to provide information related to school safety.  You may invite stakeholders and other community organizations to speak about this and other matters of concern within your school community.  This is a good way to get lots of information quickly to large numbers of people, in a safe environment.

  • Consider adoption of a “safe haven” resolution.

Many charter schools and districts have held out their schools as “safe havens”.  There is no legal definition of a “safe haven”—schools cannot guarantee that ICE will not conduct enforcement activities on campus, or that families will be safe from immigration enforcement off campus.  But schools are “sensitive locations” under federal policy, so a “safe haven” resolution can help the charter school publicly declare to families and law enforcement that it intends to ensure that ICE follows the law with regard to the school; that students and families are welcome on campus;  that the school does not ask for documentation of students’ or families’ immigration status; that the school protects the privacy of students’ and families’ information;  that the school will treat all students and families equitably; and does not tolerate bullying, harassment, and intimidation based on immigration status, citizenship, religious or ethnic identification.  If you would like a draft sample of a “safe haven” resolution or assistance in developing a “safe haven” resolution tailored for your school, please do not hesitate to contact us.

  • Connect with community service organizations and collect resources.

Contact and tap into the expertise of local community service organizations that specialize in immigration issues.  Schools can develop relationships and refer families to them, and many of these organizations have developed helpful resources they can share with families, such as “Know Your Rights” videos and wallet-sized cards.

  • Communicate with school families.

Keep an open dialogue with parents (and students if appropriate) about what is happening in your community on this issue.  If your school adopts a “safe haven” resolution, inform all stakeholders about the resolution and explain what it means to them.  ICE enforcement may occur off campus but still impact your community, particularly if it affects your students’ and parents’ ability to get to and from your school.  Provide communications in the languages necessary to effectively reach your community.

  • Update your student privacy policies.

Schools can adopt strict FERPA policies to protect students and families.  Schools use a directory information policy to define certain information as “directory information” that can be shared without parental consent.  Your school could choose to not include addresses or parent names in its directory.  Schools may also decide to not have a directory information policy at all, which would generally prohibit the non-exempt disclosure of such student information.

  • Provide staff training on student privacy.

School staff should know the basics of protecting student privacy, as well as how to respond to questions from students, parents and families, or questions from immigration enforcement agents:

  1. Protect student privacy.  Provide FERPA training to all staff.  Have a formal procedure when an employee receives requests for student information from law enforcement or others, to ensure such requests are reviewed and responded to appropriately.  Staff should not disclose sensitive student information with other staff members unless it is tied to an educational purpose. 
  2. Don’t ask students or families about immigration status.  If staff feels it is necessary to ask a student about their immigration status in order to support the student, staff should work with school administration to ensure that any questions of a sensitive nature are asked in a safe manner that protects the student’s rights. 
  3. Treat all students equitably.  School staff should always treat students equitably in the receipt of school services, and staff should be instructed to report any instances to administration where they feel a student is the target of bullying, harassment, or intimidation based on immigration status, citizenship, religious or ethnic identification.
  • Be prepared.  What should you do if ICE arrives at your school?

Know that ICE has a longstanding policy that it will not conduct immigration enforcement activity at any “sensitive location”, which includes schools, without special permission by specific federal law enforcement officials and unless urgent circumstances exist.  Protect your students’ information, but cooperate with law enforcement when required.  If ICE representatives arrive, school staff should immediately locate the principal or site administrator, and ask to see the warrant or other legal documentation that justifies the search or intrusion onto the school site.  You need not give permission to enter the school or conduct a search without a warrant.  If an ICE official presents a valid warrant, schools cannot prevent the search or arrest, but you can insist that the correct procedures are followed.  School staff should not obstruct or otherwise impede ICE activity.

  1. Staff should not sign any documents on behalf of the school without approval from the school’s Chief Executive Officer or Executive Director.
  2. Document ICE activity.  Gather agents’ business cards or badge numbers, make a note of the records that are searched and/or retrieved, who is interviewed, reasons stated for the search, and other observations.  Warrants usually have limitations, such as describing pertinent records that may be searched.  If the site administrator believes a search is being conducted beyond the scope of a warrant, he or she should document that and refer to legal counsel.  Again, do not attempt to stop or impede the search on your own.
  3. Communication.  Immigration enforcement at or near a school will likely make the news, so be prepared to provide information to families and to respond to questions.

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Patrick Ross, Senior Manager of Marketing & Communications
EmailP: 619.906.5740


Suzie Jayyusi, Events Planner
EmailP: 619.515.3818