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05/15/2017

School Board affirms resolution establishing schools as 'safe haven'

The School Board on May 9, 2017 voted to "affirm and support" a resolution proposed by a group of Cape residents.

School Board members lauded the resolution, titled "Resolution Establishing Cape Elizabeth Schools as a Safe Haven for Students and Families of Every Race, Religion, Nationality, Gender, Ethnicity or Sexual Orientation," and the work of the Cape Diversity Coalition that drafted it, but some were concerned that some of the amounted to policy decisions that should go through the policy-adoption process.

Dubbed the "safe haven" resolution, the concluding paragraphs state that Cape Elizabeth school employees, contractors, volunteers and representatives will not disclose information to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers about parents’ or students’ immigration status unless compelled to do so by a valid court order; and, "Declares Cape Elizabeth Schools a safe haven, thus barring the use of school resources for the detection or apprehension of students or families whose only violation of law may be their status as an undocumented resident of the United States."

"I'm not a lawyer," said board member Jo Morrissey, adding that she could not support something that she was not sure could happen. "I would move ... to change the motion to say that we support the ideas of this resolution, and that we are committed to moving forward to bringing as much of this to life that we are legally able to given our legal authority as a school board," she said.

John Voltz, another board member, said, "there are things in this resolution that commit us to do things that would look like policies."

"I'm really for, and delighted by, the energy and community enthusiasm around this - I support that and want to embrace it (but) I'm very cautious about circumventing what has been a very robust policy making process that we've embraced," he said.

School Board policies are typically drafted by school administrators or school attorneys, reviewed at public meetings by a three-member subcommittee of the board, then brought to the full School Board for at least two readings before adoption by School Board vote.

Voltz proposed adding language to the resolution, or creating a new one, to direct the superintendent to review current policies pertaining to non-discrimination, safety or speech and to identify any that may need strengthening. The board agreed such a move could be considered as part of a future agenda.

The vote to affirm, rather than adopt, the resolution was unanimous. Barbara Powers, who chairs the policy committee, said having the resolution on record will guide decisions on applicable policies in the future. "I like having these kinds of words behind our work," she said.

The Cape Diversity Coalition is the same group that in April asked the Town Council to adopt a resolution welcoming all people. The council will consider a revision of that resolution at a workshop June 5, and at their meeting June 12. [news article]

Both resolutions were inspired by an incident this fall at a High School football game. Woodcrest Road resident Jim Sparks, a parent and a founder of the coalition, told board members, "I remember feeling on that day as if something had been unleashed across the country, that there was a sort of permission in the air to state what before had been unspeakable, or at least confined to the shadows.

"I also felt that our community needed to come together in some way to emphatically declare that it was not OK that people of color, people who are Muslim, or people who immigrated here from another country somehow do not belong," Sparks said.

Here is the text of the Safe Haven resolution:

Resolution Establishing Cape Elizabeth Schools as a Safe Haven for Students and Families of Every Race, Religion, Nationality, Gender, Ethnicity or Sexual Orientation

WHEREAS, we are alarmed by the recent escalation of hateful rhetoric against Muslims, those perceived to be Muslims, immigrants, people of color and other religious minorities; and

WHEREAS, hate speech and discriminatory acts of any kind are unacceptable in our school community as they significantly impact students’ psychological well- being and ability to thrive in the classroom; and

WHEREAS, members of the Cape Elizabeth school community embrace our responsibility to directly address incidents of discrimination, intolerance, violence or hate; and

WHEREAS, we wish to honor the rich contributions made by students and parents of every race, religion, ethnicity, gender, nationality or sexual orientation; and

WHEREAS, we commit to creating an atmosphere of respectful listening and dialogue across social and political divides, and reject actions that stifle even unpopular points of view; and

WHEREAS, all students have the right to be educated in an environment that is free from fear, and fears may be particularly acute for students and families impacted by federal immigration enforcement activities such as arrest, detention, surveillance and demands for information; and

WHEREAS, the United States Supreme Court established in Plyer v. Doe (1982) that children have a right to access a free public education regardless of immigration status;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT HEREBY RESOLVED, that the School Board of
Cape Elizabeth:

1. Welcomes students and families of all cultures and faiths, celebrates the benefits of a pluralistic society, and defends the right of every person to live and practice their identity, culture and faith without fear.

2. Will take action to address incidents of hate, violence or discrimination directed toward students or families targeted for their religion, ethnicity, race, nationality, gender, immigration status or sexual orientation.

3. Affirms that any student or family member targeted for their nationality, religion, race, ethnicity, gender, immigration status or sexual orientation should be able to turn to school officials for protection without fear of retribution.

4. Commits to creating a school environment that values respect for all religions and cultures and actively addresses all forms of bullying and discrimination.

5. Embraces the responsibility of schools to educate students about the social, cultural, religious and ethnic diversity of the United States, and to teach students to think critically about their own biases.

6. Commits to setting an educational curriculum that reflects the values of tolerance, diversity and inclusion.

7. Stipulates that Cape Elizabeth school employees, contractors, volunteers and representatives will not disclose information to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers about parents’ or students’ immigration status unless compelled to do so by a valid court order.

8. Declares Cape Elizabeth Schools a safe haven, thus barring the use of school resources for the detection or apprehension of students or families whose only violation of law may be their status as an undocumented resident of the United States.