Speaking at the San Dieguito Union High School District (SDUHSD) board meeting March 9, San Dieguito High School Academy teacher Rob Ross said that a few weeks ago he noticed that one of his students seemed stressed in class. When he asked if she was OK, she burst into tears. The student told him she couldn’t concentrate in school because of the fear and anxiety she was facing — her parents are undocumented immigrants and they had been discussing plans if they should suddenly “disappear” due to deportation.
Ross said that in his work with Latino leadership and supports groups, more students have reported feeling widespread fear to the point of terror, families who have been here for decades are wondering if they are still welcome. He added that students like the girl in his class, who is taking AP classes, playing varsity sports and aims to be the first in her family to go to college, should feel safe and supported as they reach for their dreams.
“I believe times like these are the moments where we should not silence our voices. It is our moral obligation to say something,” Ross said. “In my 17 years of working with immigrant students in this district, it is my conclusion that we are indeed getting their best, and in this moment, we need to reassure them that we are on their side.”
At its March 9 meeting, the board showed they agreed with that message of tolerance and inclusion by unanimously approving a Resolution in Support of All Students and Declaring All Schools a Safe Place.”
The resolution was proposed by the board following comments heard at the Feb. 2 SDUHSD board meeting regarding the district’s policies on discrimination and promoting tolerance at the schools. Canyon Crest Academy parent Rajy Abulhosn referenced a basketball game between Canyon Crest and Torrey Pines High School where students briefly chanted “Build that wall.” SDUHSD Superintendent Eric Dill said that, in light of recent national events, the district has received a number of questions regarding its policies.
“This resolution was drafted to reiterate and reaffirm the board’s commitment to providing a world-class public education and safe schools for all students irrespective of their immigration status, ancestry, color, disability, gender, gender identity, gender expression, nationality, race or ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, socio-economic status or beliefs or association with any of those,” SDUHSD Superintendent Eric Dill said. “What the resolution would also do is embrace the diversity of our community… reaffirming that we are opening and accepting and that we have safe schools for all of our students.”
The resolution also affirms that the district complies with the law by not inquiring about immigration status nor maintaining documentation of a student’s legal status or disclosing that information to third parties.
Everything included in the resolution is already included in various existing school policies.
“(The resolution) puts it all together within one place and makes a statement to our students so they know that we support them and that they’re safe,” SDUHSD President Amy Herman said.
The resolution was met with support and thanks during public comment from parents, teachers and students — Torrey Pines’ Grace Bashour, an immigrant from Syria, and Noah Garcia, representing Torrey Pines’ Genders and Sexuality Alliance (GSA), said the district’s resolution was meaningful to them, providing them with a “backbone of support.”
“Ultimately my goal in speaking up wasn’t to create dissent or simply to expose problems, it really was my hope that we could bridge gaps and facilitate solutions,” Abulhosn said. “This resolution does that and I am very appreciative.”
Brenda Robinette, a teacher in the English-language learner program at Torrey Pines, also thanked the board for the resolution, as she considers it an honor to serve and care for some of the most diverse students in the school.
“I especially love working with kids who know how special it is to be able to go to school in the United States, where they get the opportunity to create the kind of future that they know they deserve,” said Robinette.
She said teachers dedicate themselves to make sure every student feels important, successful and valued. “The resolution reflects what is in each of our hearts.”
Torrey Pines teacher Don Collins, who runs the Peer Assisted Listeners (PALs) program at school, said he works hard to foster student connectedness at school, especially with new students — he said the 2,600-student school had more than 200 transfer students from around the world. He said student wellness centers on students feeling connected and being treated with dignity and respect.
“Your proclamation is a good-faith promise to promote a safe and inclusive place for all students to come and learn and grow. You heard from two amazing students who found a home, who found friend groups and, as a result, they became student leaders. They had to start somewhere, and that somewhere had to be a safe place. They had to be themselves and they had to be themselves to thrive,” Collins said. “This proclamation makes it a clear and loud statement to all the student families: You matter to us, we are here to teach you.”
Erin Charnow, who teaches math in the Newcomer Academy at La Costa Canyon and serves as an advisor for the GSA club, said she has the opportunity to reach some of the school’s most vulnerable populations.
The majority of students in the Newcomer Academy are new immigrants from Central America, primarily Guatemala, and she said hearing the board’s proposed resolution put them at ease and alleviated fears they had about even coming to campus. She ensured them it is their right in America to have an education— “It’s suddenly given them a voice which they didn’t feel they had,” Charnow said.
Charnow also shared the resolution with her GSA club, many of whom are only out in the club and not to their families.
“To say that the school is the one place they can be themselves, means so much to them,” Charnow said, noting one student was made to use a special bathroom and use a utility closet to change for PE at their last school after coming out.
SDUHSD Trustee John Salazar said he doesn’t typically like resolutions because they have no teeth. He questioned what would be done differently after the resolution is passed.
Dill said he would be communicating the board’s position to 18,000 district contacts and reiterating that message until it becomes the district’s accepted “brand.” The resolution also directs Dill to work with site principals to engage in activities that promote tolerance and inclusion and to provide training to staff.
“Aren’t we pretty much already doing that?” Salazar asked.
“We are doing that but there’s nothing that says we can’t do a better job,” Dill said. “One of the issues that we have is that each school is doing something different…I think we need to start looking at a more unified approach…find what works and set to replicate and repeat that from school to school.”
During public comment, parent Lucile Lynch also wanted to ensure that there was action behind the resolution, including addressing transportation needs of students in the La Colonia and Eden Gardens communities, and equal education and workforce training for students with disabilities.
Not everyone at the meeting was in support of the resolution.
“I object to this resolution, I see it as an attempt to state a political opinion…it is not a proper use of the time, the attention and the resources of this district,” said Carmel Valley resident John Turnage.
Turnage said he felt that it is a much better use of public resources to pay attention to issues that can be addressed by legitimate functions of the district rather than to apply “good intentions to political situations which they cannot effectively influence.”
“If we feel fear and anxiety about recent events, it is not coming from the district,” Turnage said. “It’s not coming from here and I think that pretending that it might come from here is likely to produce the same fear and anxiety that you’re trying to comfort people about.”