A petition calling for Philadelphia School District Superintendent William Hite and the School Reform Commission to adopt a “sanctuary campus” policy for the District has been making the rounds on social media. The petition is sponsored by City Councilwoman Helen Gym, the Caucus of Working Educators, Teacher Action Group, and other local groups dedicated to protecting the rights of undocumented immigrants.
The term “sanctuary campus” is a clear reference to Sanctuary Cities, such as Philadelphia, that do not use local law enforcement to enforce immigration laws, leaving that responsibility solely to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a federal agency.
“It is crucial that immigrant families be able to trust and partner with our School District. I’m proud to support the courageous organizing to establish a sanctuary school district in Philadelphia," said Helen Gym, City Councilwoman.
"In addition to reaffirming its support for the constitutional rights of all students and their families, the School District has a significant role to play in making Philadelphia a safe and welcoming city for all immigrants by providing accurate information to its staff and affirming a policy of non-inquiry and non-disclosure of immigration status for students and their families,” she said.
The petition begins by describing an intense deportation environment that is about to get worse.
“Since 2009, more than 2.5 million immigrants have been deported from the United States, and statements and events in the wake of the recent national election have created a climate of fear of both hate crimes and detention/deportation,” the petition reads.
It refers to a 2011 ICE memo stating that the authority of the agency's officers can be restricted upon entering certain locations, such as school campuses, and urges Hite to adopt an official written policy to this effect.
“As an institution that is committed to upholding the values of respect for individuals and communities, justice, and nonviolence, it is the district's obligation to ensure that it remains a place that actively protects the constitutional rights and safety of its community members,” the petition reads.
But the term “sanctuary campus” does not yet have a universal meaning. It was used recently by student protest movements at various universities around the country. Students succeeded at Wesleyan University, where the school’s president declared the university a sanctuary campus last month.
Wesleyan defined the term by stating that the university will prevent staff from assisting any federal law enforcement with deportation efforts.
But the petition for the Philadelphia School District goes further.
It explains that in 1982 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that all children must be provided with equal access to K-12 education regardless of their immigration status, in Plyler v. Doe. The petition calls for the District’s written policies against discrimination and harassment of minority groups to also apply to students based on immigration status.
The petition then describes six policies to be implemented by the District, paraphrased below:
- The District would refuse all voluntary information-sharing with ICE and Border Patrol.
- The District would refuse ICE physical access to schools whenever possible under the law, and if not possible, ICE would be required to notify the District in advance.
- Upon notification, the superintendent and/or general counsel would ask for ICE agent’s credentials, ask for an explanation, and ask whether evidence of reasonable suspicion exists. ICE agents would have to present a warrant for each property with a specified purpose before being allowed access.
- District staff would not be permitted to ask about students' or families' immigration status. The District would prohibit school police from doing so, as well, and also from enforcing immigration laws or participating in ICE or Border Patrol actions.
- The District would ensure the safety of women, people of color, LGBTQ+ community members, Muslims, low-income students, and all other individuals facing heightened threats.
- Within the next 90 days, the superintendent would develop a plan for training staff on responding to ICE agents who request information about students and families or attempt to enter District property. The plan would also include a procedure to notify families about ICE efforts to gain information about students and families, and how to support students with deported or detained family members.
The petition also called for more attention to hate crimes against all groups, regardless of immigration status.
“There are increased fears of hate crimes against women, people of color, and LGBTQ students and their families that live in Philadelphia and depend on our public schools,” the petition states.
The petition can be read here.