Beyond Sanctuary Schools

As originally posted in GREAT SCHOOL VOICES

I’ve worked in Oakland schools for 19 years as an educator, administrator, and organizer. During that time I have met hundreds of relentless family leaders. I have learned from the Jingletown families who didn’t ask for permission, and instead demanded decision-makers hear their demands, and the persistent families who launched the Small Schools Movement that started schools like ASCEND, Think College Now, EnCompass, MetWest, and many more.

And more recently families in East and West Oakland who have sounded the alarm about the unacceptable learning conditions at their children’s schools.

Oakland’s families of color are boss. And I am not talking about the regular attendees of school board meetings whose children attend some of the most sought-after schools in OUSD. I am talking about the families whose access to a great school feels largely out of reach.

For those families, especially Oakland’s immigrant community, it has never been so hard to advocate for change at their school.

I write this blog from the perspective of some of the families I have worked with who have given me permission and blessing to share their story.

Organizing to change power relationships is never polite. These families tell stories of being pushed and shoved in school hallways, and yelled at by school staff for their organizing efforts. They took this in stride, and even when they feared for how their children would be treated at the school site, they persisted.

But what made them pause was when they had school staff threaten to call ICE on them. I don’t mean a casual comment in passing, I mean letters sent home telling families that ICE would be contacted should they continue their organizing efforts. Steps were taken to address the issue with this individual, but the fear lingered.

Recently, I met with a few of these leaders to discuss local and national education issues. In that meeting, one leader told me that in reflecting on her organizing efforts from previous years. She shared that she and the other families would have NEVER organized at the school site if Trump had been president. The risks now are too great.

My heart sank. Second guessing your every move is a daily reality for immigrant families leaving under the threat of deportation, but now under the new regime, mothers who would stop at nothing to advocate for their kids feel silenced. These are the families whose voices need to be heard and it is a loss to our schools and community. Recent reporting across the country reflect that immigrants are changing their relationship to social services and opting to stay out of institutions that are perceived to increase risk of deportation.

I applaud OUSD’s declaration of being a Sanctuary District and the charter schools who have followed suit. And I was glad to see Superintendent Dr. Trammell’s op-ed on July 17th reiterating that OUSD does not ask for proof of immigration status and sharing resources for the Oakland Immigration Project.

Oakland is doing groundbreaking work here, but it is not enough. If those who are closest to the pain are to demand and identify solutions, we must do better as a city to ensure that families can live, work, play and organize, without the fear—even if we disagree with them.

What are we doing to make sure all employees see themselves working in solidarity of immigrant families and those under attack? In addition to striving to provide excellent education for all students, we need all staff in all schools, district and charter, to commit to making schools welcoming environments for students and families regardless of their citizenship status, race, gender and ability.

Mirella Rangel grew up in the Bay Area and in Mexico and began doing community organizing for educational justice while studying biology at the University of California at Berkeley. She is an Oaklander and Xicana mother working for a more just, loving, and sustainable world. Follow her on Twitter: @mirella_rangel.

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