Central Okanagan school district considering sanctuary schools policy

The Central Okanagan school board is considering a proposal aimed at making it easier for kids without immigration status to attend local school. It would involve creating a formal sanctuary schools policy. Reporter Megan Turcato has more on what such a policy might include and why advocates say action is needed.

The Central Okangan school board is considering a proposal aimed at making it easier for kids with precarious immigration status to attend local schools.

It would involve creating a formal sanctuary schools policy.

RAMA Okanagan, a local group that advocates for migrant farm workers, is supporting the proposal and will be presenting to the board on Wednesday night.

RAMA Okanagan co-founder Amy Cohen said her main message will be that “all children deserve to go to school and they have that right regardless of their status.”

“Our best estimates are in the Okanagan there are probably hundreds of people without status. How many of those have children? We are not sure, but I would say that even if this helps one single family then it is worth it,” said Cohen.

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The advocacy group says a sanctuary schools policy would eliminate barriers to enrollment.

“For example, broadening the types of documents that families can use to enroll their kids in school, not requiring proof of migration status for kids to enroll,” explained Cohen.

“The second part of sanctuary school policies about ensuring schools are safe zones: that schools promise not to share families information with federal authorities unless they are compelled to do so by law.”

Trustee Norah Bowman is bringing forward a motion at Wednesday night’s board meeting that calls for the Central Okanagan School District to develop a sanctuary schools policy.

“We welcome all children in our schools…the policy would mean that structurally we are prepared and we can do things like speak to the Ministry of Education and Child Care and ask for funding for students who might have precarious visa status. We don’t really have a mechanism for doing that right now,” said Bowman.

Bowman was inspired by the New Westminster School District. That district was the first and, so far, is the only district in B.C. to adopt a sanctuary schools policy.

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“We heard from them that they had six students in one year so it is not like an overwhelming number but for those few students it is a really big deal,” said Bowman.

“The other reason I find this important is it speaks to our values of equity and welcoming everyone. That is what public schools are for.”

RAMA Okanagan is hoping other districts will adopt sanctuary schools policies beyond the Central Okanagan.

Asked for a written comment on sanctuary schools policies, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) provided a statement.

“All individuals who are subject to enforcement action by the CBSA have access to due process and procedural fairness. Those being removed have either exhausted, or chosen not to pursue, further legal recourse and have no legal right to remain in Canada,” said the statement from senior spokesperson Judith Gadbois-St-Cyr.

“The CBSA strives to balance its obligation to enforce immigration laws in a fair and consistent manner, while mitigating risks to individuals, the general public and officers. There is no legal restriction preventing the CBSA from carrying out necessary enforcement actions outside a school to execute an arrest warrant. However, whenever possible, the Agency prefers to engage with the individual(s) subject to immigration enforcement with the goal of achieving voluntary compliance.”

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