Guidance: Sanctuary Schools for Undocumented Students

January 31, 2017

Update: On May 11, 2017, the Attorney General of the District of Columbia released guidance to schools regarding immigration concerns. This guidance is intended to support the guidance released earlier this year by DC PCSB.

DC Public Charter Schools (DC PCS) serve all students who are residents of the District of Columbia. Many DC charter schools may serve undocumented students. These students and their parents now find themselves fearful and concerned because of potential changes to immigration enforcement. This page is designed to provide information and resources LEAs may find useful when educating undocumented students.

The District of Columbia Public Charter School Board (DC PCSB) supports Mayor Muriel Bowser’s stance: “Our families, regardless of their immigration status don’t need to fear calling 311 or 911 or registering their kids in school.” 

What is a Sanctuary City?

The label “sanctuary city” can mean different things, but generally, it is used to describe a city that protects undocumented immigrants either formally by passing legislation or informally by having unwritten policies.

The District of Columbia is a sanctuary city. Mayor Muriel Bowser stated: “Being a sanctuary city means we are not an agent of the federal government . . . . It means that our police can focus on serving DC residents — protecting and serving them — no matter their immigration status.” [1] Mayor Bowser reaffirmed DC is a sanctuary city in a live statement after President Trump signed an Executive Order stating that sanctuary cities are not eligible for federal grants. [2] 

What is a Sanctuary School or Sanctuary Campus?

The name sanctuary school or sanctuary campus comes from the sanctuary city concept. An LEA may use the name “sanctuary school” or “sanctuary campus” to reassure undocumented students and families that its campus is a safe and welcoming place to learn. LEAs may use the sanctuary school label to publicly:

  • Remind students, parents and community members of existing policies and procedures for undocumented students;  
  • Inform parents and students about the rights of undocumented students;
  • Address some of the concerns of students and parents;
  • Reaffirm a school’s commitment to undocumented students. 

This declaration can be made several different ways. Some LEAs adopt new resolutions, some issue public statements, and others choose to address students and parents by having an open meeting or town hall. Below are references and examples of declarations for LEAs wishing to take additional steps to support its undocumented students. [3] 

Rights & Support of Undocumented Students[4] 

Resolution Examples

  • Tucson Unified School District, resolution expressing commitment to students regardless of immigration status.
  • Minneapolis Board of Education, Safe Haven Resolution.
  • Leadership Public Schools (Charter School), Resolution Affirming Leadership Public School Facilities, Programs Area a Sanctuary for Immigrant Families.
  • San Rafael City Schools, Commitment to the Education of All Students.

Public Statement Examples

[1] The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) also provides: “MPD's policy with respect to the enforcement of civil immigration laws is very clear: MPD officers are strictly prohibited from making inquiries into citizenship or residency status for the purpose of determining whether an individual has violated the civil immigration laws or for the purpose of enforcing those laws. In other words, the MPD is not in the business of inquiring about the residency status of the people we serve and is not in the business of enforcing civil immigration laws.”
[2] There is debate as to the constitutionality and enforceability of this Executive Order is unconstitutional and unenforceable.  See, for example. 
[3] These references on DC PCSB’s website are for information and educational purposes only. They do not represent advice or an endorsement of any policy or entity.
[4] The documents in this section were developed under the Obama administration and may change with the new administration.