San Luis Coastal declares schools as 'safe zones'



Camilo Baltodano, a Pacheco Elementary School student, stepped up to the lectern at the Dec. 13 San Luis Coastal Unified School District (SLCUSD) board of trustees meeting and addressed the adults in the room. 

He wanted to express his support for a resolution that was in front of the board that night��"titled "School District Safe Zone"��"which aimed to offer support and reassurance for the many local families living in fear of President-elect Donald Trump's future deportation policies.

"[Baltodano] spoke eloquently about the way that our democracy has been impacted by this election ... about the importance that we care for each other, and that we make sure our schools are places where, regardless of where you come from, you feel safe," SLCUSD Superintendent Eric Prater told New Times. "He's a future leader. It was a powerful moment for us."

After a standing ovation, the board of trustees voted unanimously to adopt the resolution.

The safe zone resolution declares that SLCUSD grounds are "safe places for students and their families," promises that the district will not "inquire about a student's immigration status, including that of family members" absent an overriding order, and asks Superintendent Prater to "increase and enhance partnerships with organizations and services that provide resources for families facing deportation."

SLCUSD board trustee Ellen Sheffer asked for the resolution after a recent visit to Pacheco. Pacheco enrolls a high number of students from non-English speaking families, and Sheffer found an alarming level of fear and anxiety in the school community related to the election.

"I asked what the tenor was on campus," Sheffer told New Times. "I was told that parents were fearful. They were confused. They felt they could no longer volunteer at the school because they were afraid. There were parents who were crying. It's our job to let them know they'll always be safe at school."

The resolution also declares district grounds as safe places for families to "seek help, assistance, and information" related to immigration enforcement efforts. It points out that under the equal protection rights of the 14th Amendment, public school districts may not deny children access to education based on their immigration status.

Prater noted that the district doesn't have any history with "immigration agents coming in" and that, for now, "it isn't part of our reality."

"But that doesn't minimize the fear," he said. "The fear is real. A number of our families in our community have been shaken by this election."

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