Tacoma Public Schools Superintendent Carla Santorno says schools in the city will be “a safe zone for immigrant students to learn and thrive.”
Her message, in the form of an open letter to families published on the school district website Tuesday, cites the diversity of Washington’s third-largest school district as a strength to be celebrated.
It also says every school in the 29,000-student district has been directed to provide a “safe, private location” where students can get help and support if immigration law enforcement “interferes with their learning experience.”
Santorno said several social service agencies in Tacoma are compiling information to help immigrant families, and she wants schools to be able to direct families to accurate information.
The Tacoma School Board is expected to consider a resolution in support of students as well, the superintendent said.
Santorno said her message to families was prompted by reports from district principals that they’re hearing from children who fear what might happen to their families as a result of new federal directives.
She said her job is to ensure that all students feel safe at school and are ready to learn.
“I felt it required a response equal to the concerns that people are having,” Santorno said.
Discussions about what might change for students from immigrant families have been echoing through the education community since President Donald Trump made anti-immigrant statements a part of his campaign.
His executive order temporarily banning travel to the United States for people from seven Muslim-majority countries sparked protests across the country over the weekend.
Santorno’s letter notes that Tacoma Public Schools does not ask for or track the citizenship or immigration status of its students.
That’s been the case for public schools across the nation since the 1980s, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Texas law that denied state funding for students whose parents entered the country without legal permission.
Santorno also notes that, under federal student privacy law, a student’s citizenship or immigration status cannot be disclosed.
The school district website translates Santorno’s message into Arabic, Russian, Spanish and Vietnamese, and notes that a translation into Cambodian is coming soon.
Santorno also sent an automated phone message to Tacoma Public Schools families.
“We will continue providing all students their legal right to access free public K-12 education, regardless of their religion, their place of birth, their language, their citizenship, their immigration status, their parents’ status or any other legally protected characteristics,” Santorno’s message states.