State schools chief Tom Torlakson salutes Sacramento district as 'safe haven'
Sacramento City Unified drew high marks Wednesday from state schools chief Tom Torlakson for its “safe haven concept” that is spreading among districts around the state.
The Sacramento school district declared itself a safe haven in December to protect students fearful of deportation or hate speech following “intolerant rhetoric made over the course of the 2016 presidential race.” The district vowed to restrict sharing of student data and specified that immigration officials need permission from the superintendent to enter campuses.
“When I heard about it, I said, this makes sense,” Torlakson told teachers and sixth-grade students at Oak Ridge Elementary School’s gymnasium. “We have to do something to combat the climate of worries, anxieties and fears that was spreading so rapidly and still is there.
“But strong schools like Oak Ridge … have taken steps to protect the private information of students and make sure that the school is welcoming to the parents and to the students and that we’re all together in this.”
Days after Sacramento City Unified declared itself a safe haven, Torlakson, the state superintendent of public instruction, urged educators serving about 6.2 million students in California to take similar action and offered the Sacramento district’s resolution as a model.
Torlakson on Wednesday awarded the district “a seal of the safe haven schools from the Department of Education.” Sixty school districts so far have passed safe haven resolutions, he said.
Torlakson said about 300,000 children in California are undocumented. Another 1 million have parents who are undocumented.
“I have urged President Trump not to engage in widespread deportations,” he said.
Torlakson said his agency is “pleased not just with the passing of the action at the school board level but actual implementation, the steps you’ve taken.” He cited the district’s use of pledge cards asking students, employees and community members to pledge support for the safe haven campaign. It’s “one more good idea I’m getting here from Sacramento City Unified,” he said.
Sacramento City Unified trustee Jessie Ryan, who authored the safe haven resolution, said the effort is important because it states that Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents cannot come on school campuses, a fact she said is recognized by students.
“When sixth graders tell you they are fearful … that they will be deported, we know there is a problem that merits immediate action,” she said.
More than a quarter Oak Ridge’s approximately 580 students are English learners, according to state education data.