Safe schools or sanctuary district? Dayton action stirs controversy.

Dayton school board members approved a resolution Tuesday night supporting immigrant students, including those here illegally, despite concerns from one board member who questioned the need and timing of the issue.

Two state lawmakers condemned the board action, which they said made Dayton a sanctuary district when it should focus solely on improving its academic performance.

The resolution declared Dayton Public Schools as a “Safe and Welcoming School District.”

Board member Mohamed Al-Hamdani said he drafted the measure in consultation with an attorney and other school districts.

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Al-Hamdani, an immigration attorney, said he believes it’s a troubling time in the country for those who are of different backgrounds and nationalities, including students who may have undocumented parents.

“I want to make sure our district feels safe for those kids, because a lot of those children are not feeling very safe right now, and their families don’t feel safe,” he said. “We’ve heard as a district that some of the parents are starting to pull their kids out of school because they are afraid we will turn them over to ICE.”

Five members voted for its approval, with board member John McManus voting to abstain based on legal concerns he had with the legislation. Board member Sheila Taylor was absent.

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McManus said he reached out to Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli prior to the vote to get more information about the resolution. She referred him to Al-Hamdani, McManus said.

McManus questioned the need for passage of the resolution.

He said the district is well aware of and in compliance with a June 1982 Supreme Court landmark decision, known as Plyler v. Doe, which says states cannot constitutionally deny students a free public education on account of their immigration status.

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“That is already existing, so when I was going through this resolution, my question was: What are we doing here?” McManus asked. “What was the intent behind this?”

Al-Hamdani explained that, across the country, some school boards have voted to declare their districts “safe havens,” or “sanctuaries,” which means the district will offer protection and help students and their families that are illegal immigrants.

Two state representatives from the Dayton area, Niraj Antani (R-Miamisburg) and Phil Plummer (R-Dayton), issued statement Wednesday afternoon opposing the newly-passed resolution.

“Dayton School Board members should focus on bettering Dayton Public Schools, currently F-rated, for their students instead of voting to become a sanctuary for illegal immigrants. Our nation has enough problems with illegal immigration. Our community should not be encouraging it,” Antani said.

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Plummer said: “The Dayton Public School Board should focus on improving the quality of education for our students and refrain from implementing unnecessary failed policies which could jeopardize the safety of our children.”

McManus and board member Robert Walker said they felt the resolution should have a second look legally to make sure it is in compliance with the law and does not make an attempt to ignore federal law. Walker, however, voted in favor.

Sanctuary status in most school districts means that staff will not allow federal immigration agents on school premises without a warrant, subpoena or court order, or otherwise legally required to do so.

Any request by immigration agents to enter a school building, or obtain information about students, would have to be approved by the superintendent or the school district’s legal staff.

Under a federal policy, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents are prohibited from making arrests at "sensitive locations," which include schools, churches, hospitals and protest rallies, except under circumstances they consider urgent or with permission from a site supervisor, according to the ICE website.

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Dayton Public Schools

The Safe and Welcoming School District Resolution:

WHEREAS, Dayton Public Schools is committed to providing safe and welcoming spaces where all students are able to focus on their education, secure in the knowledge that the District will support their safety and emotional well-being regardless of immigration status, national origin, sexual orientation, race, or religion; and

WHEREAS, all persons in Dayton Public Schools, regardless of their disability, gender, gender identity, gender expression, nationality, race or ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or any other characteristic are afforded equal rights and opportunities in the educational institutions of the district; and

WHEREAS, the Board is committed to protecting students’ constitutional rights including their Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures and their constitutional right to access a free public K-12 education; and

WHEREAS, the Board finds that federal immigration law enforcement activities at our schools, on our transportation routes, on our District property, or during our school activities will significantly disrupt the learning environment and will significantly interfere with our students’ constitutional rights to be free from unreasonable search and seizures and to access a free public education; and

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the District shall do everything in its lawful power to protect our students’ confidential information and ensure that our students’ learning environments are not disrupted by immigration enforcement actions, including but not limited to the following actions:

• The District will continue its practice to not collect or maintain any information about our students’ immigration status.

• Any request by a federal immigration official (a) for entry into any District school or other District property, (b) to communicate with any student while that student is under the supervision of the District during any school activity or while using District transportation, or (c) for any information about our students shall be immediately forwarded to the District’s Office of General Counsel.

• In responding to such requests, the District’s Office of General Counsel will not share information or provide access to our students unless required by law and will do everything in the District’s lawful power to protect the constitutional and legal rights of the District’s students.

• For example, the Office of General Counsel will not grant access to our students unless the official presents a valid search warrant issued by a federal or state judge or magistrate. In very narrow and rare “exigent circumstances,” which are defined by federal law, District employees are legally required to allow access without a valid search warrant. It is extremely unlikely that exigent circumstances will be present while our students are engaged in school activities because exigent circumstances generally involve situations where law enforcement is in hot pursuit of a fleeing criminal suspect or where evidence of a crime is about to be destroyed.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the District shall provide training, and additional resources if needed, for its existing crisis and emergency response teams in order to help ensure the safety and well-being of our students who may be impacted by immigration enforcement actions; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the District shall post this Resolution at every school site and distribute it to District staff and parents in all the predominantly used languages of the District; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Superintendent shall update any policies and procedures necessary to implement and shall broadly communicate the commitments of this Resolution.

Our commitment to our readers: The Dayton Daily News is committed to reporting important news with context and understanding. We will continue to report on both sides of controversial issues such as immigration.

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