On Wednesday, at the community forum on the City of Davis’ Sanctuary City Status, Superintendent John Bowes explained the district’s policies on immigration issues and announced he would be addressing this issue at the school board meeting on Thursday.
“The recent national election has left our country and community divided on many fronts,” he said on Thursday. “This division has led to a myriad of emotional responses among members of our school community.”
He said that one key concern “is the possibility of any future federal immigration policies that might affect undocumented individuals and/or their children – some of whom live in our school boundaries and attend our schools.”
Superintendent Bowes said they were taking this issue seriously and planning to take a comprehensive approach. “It is important to us to try to understand the real implications of any actions we would propose to take at the local level.
“Our primary goal is to ensure that our schools are safe and secure learning environments both for students and staff. We care about their physical, emotional and social health,” he said.
He referenced an op-ed from October where he talked about the need to create “environments where all students flourish.”
He wrote, “We know that an achievement gap has existed for a long time in Davis, like it has across our nation. This gap has lasting effects for youth as they progress through life. It is our duty to change this situation.”
He also noted that “school is not just about excelling in academics. We must meet the social and emotional needs of students for effective teaching and learning to take place and for students to reach their full potential.”
In a letter to parents following the election, he noted that “the presidential election has excited emotions across our country, our state, our community and within our schools. It has caused dissension among students and even a student demonstration on our senior high school campus.”
He noted, “Current events have also given us the opportunity to reflect and review our policies and procedures to ensure we have the right measures in place to ensure safety and protect student first amendment rights, while maintaining and prioritizing the orderly operation of school.”
Adding, “As parents and guardians, your child may have expressed strong feelings of conflict, fear and/or vulnerability. These are real emotions that may continue to exist among many in our community for some time. School is a place where every child should feel safe, welcome and connected.”
On Thursday, Superintendent Bowes continued, noting his comments at the forum on Wednesday. He said he met with community members and leaders engaged on the issue of “how to reduce fear and anxiety in our community.” He said, “Please be assured we are and will continue to address this issue.”
John Bowes also noted the press conference from last week, which he attended, on the hate letter delivered to the Islamic Center of Davis. The clear message, he said, is “we will not stand for this.”
His message was similar to the DA’s, noting “if you see something – say something.” “Safety on the play grounds, in classrooms, and in schools and in our community is a vital, mutual interest which we must all play apart.”
He noted the attempted abduction of a 12-year-old girl in town.
The police sent out a notice that the 12-year-old said “while she was walking home from school, a subject jumped out from behind a fence and grabbed her wrist. She reported that she was able to pull away and run away and hide in some bushes where she phoned her father. Her father picked her up and reported to police. The victim was not injured.”
The police say the subject, last seen running south on Oceano Way, was described as a white male, 25 years old, 6 to 6-4 in height with average build, short black hair and brown or hazel eyes. According to the victim he was wearing a black mask covering his mouth and nose, black gloves, a black jacket, black pants and grey shoes.
John Bowes said, “We can make our community safer by creating safe spaces across Davis for our youth. This includes making our schools and communities free from hate speech and harassment. We know that fear and anxiety are stressful and inhibit students’ ability to learn. Schools are and will continue to be safe and secure learning environments.”
He stated, “The district has not collected nor will it collect information regarding the immigration status of students.”
Dr. Bowes cited the 1982 supreme Court decision, Plyler v. Doe, a landmark decision holding that states cannot constitutionally deny students a free public education on account of their immigration status.
The case, he said, “ensures that all students, including immigrant students have a fundamental right to a public education.”
With that decision, he explained, there are protections for student privacy. He said that the district does not and will not provide information about their immigration status and, if asked, they are not required to collect nor do they share that information.
He noted that, while discussing any federally controlled issue, “we need to be cognizant of our federal funds.” Currently, federal funding supplies about five percent of the district’s annual budget. $3.2 million in federal funds go to students receiving special education, English Learner, Perkins Grant, free and reduced meal programs.
“Many of the students receiving these programs are students caught in the achievement and opportunity gap. Some students rely on our schools for one to two meals per day,” he said. “We know students know best when their basic needs are met. We do not want to lose any funding for any of these critical programs which serve students across the district including many undocumented students.”
John Bowes said that DJUSD is not the first district to deal with these issues – he said a number of districts have adopted some sort of safe schools resolutions. He said their goal is to craft a resolution that is “meaningful and reflects our Davis community.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting