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All public schools in Districts 65 and 202 have been declared “safe havens” by their respective School Boards. On Jan. 17, the District 202 Board approved a resolution making Evanston Township High School a safe and welcoming school to all students, regardless of their immigration status.
The following week, the District 65 Board approved a similar resolution making all District 65 schools, including the Walker and Bessie Rhodes schools in Skokie, safe havens. The School Districts follow the City of Evanston, which approved an ordinance similar in content in December of last year. Both school resolutions and the City ordinance were approved unanimously. The school resolutions are among the first in Illinois and among the first in the nation to offer such protection for their students.
The Jan. 17 resolution, drafted by District 202 Board member Jonathan Baum, made ETHS a “safe haven” for students and families threatened by immigration enforcement or discrimination “to the fullest extent permitted by law.”
“One of the most important lessons we teach our children is to act boldly and to do what’s right,” said Mr. Baum who told the Board he was glad to be able to work on the resolution which had special meaning to him since his father immigrated to this country when he was 7 years old.
The resolution states that District 202 employees, contractors, volunteers and representatives, “will not use District resources for the purpose of detecting or assisting in the apprehension of persons whose only violation of law is or may be being an undocumented resident in the United States, or failing to produce documents authorizing residency in the United States.” District 202 will not inquire about or reveal the immigration status of any person and further, will not grant entry to the school to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials without a valid court order, according to the resolution.
In essence, said Mr. Baum, “If a court order asks us to do something, we will,” but the resolutions states that District 202 will “exercise our legal rights to the fullest,” will consult legal counsel and challenge actions in court if necessary.
ETHS DREAMers Club members have spoken with School Board and staff as well as local and state officials about their concerns for their school and their community to remain safe places for learning, regardless of immigration status. ETHS senior Cameron Guy spoke on behalf of the club at the December 12, 2016 Board meeting to share a statement about widespread commitment at ETHS to ensure the safety, health and well-being of undocumented students and their families. “By urgently moving to serve the immediate and long-term needs of our undocumented community members, we can foster a welcoming community for all of its members, regardless of religion, race, gender, sexuality, or immigrations status,” the statement declared.
District 202 Board Member Anne Sills call the passage of the resolution a “proud moment” for the school.
“If these things didn’t occur we wouldn’t be here,” said District 202 Superintendent Eric Witherspoon. “I promise you this – we will stand tall. We will take every measure we can take to protect every student and their families.”
The full resolution is posted on the ETHS website in both English and Spanish.
In presenting the resolution to the District 665 Board on Jan. 23, Superintendent Paul Goren told Board members it does not break the law but “follows the obligation we have to provide children with ace to free public education regardless of their immigration status. It celebrates the diversity of our community and our diverse community. It ensures that all schools are safe and welcoming.
“The resolution declares our school areas safe havens, and, unless required by law we will not assist in the apprehension of those who may be in the United States without documentation. We will not inquire about the immigration status, nor will we require such documentation. … In so doing we will continue to respect the privacy of our families.”
The office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement will have to obtain approval from the Superintendent, should it wish to deal with a District 65 family, Dr. Goren said. “Again, we are not violating the law but making sure we are preserving our schools as a safe and welcoming place where we welcome and accept all children and all our families,” he said.
Dr. Goren said the two School Districts will bring a joint statement incorporating the resolutions to the next Joint School Board meeting.