A “sanctuary schools” resolution has passed in a unanimous vote by the Philadelphia school board, promising protection to immigrant students and their families.

For several months, the school board has worked with Juntos, a South Philadelphia immigrants rights advocacy group, to craft a policy of active protection. The work is in line with the city’s platform that education is a human right, not only the right of citizens. The resolution will include training for staff and teachers on how to deal with potential interactions with agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The Philadelphia School District already had policies in place to prevent the release of any information about students to ICE. Teachers were provided with “toolkits” on how to support immigrant students, but not with active training. When Juntos surveyed the teachers and staff of several Philly schools, they found only a quarter reported receiving any such training or even having had any staff meetings on the topic. Moreover, 73 percent reported not knowing how to report ICE making contact.

One of the triggers for the new resolution was an incident in 2020, when a young mother from Honduras was arrested by ICE in front of her daughter’s elementary school. School administrators believe the incident played a part in the higher-than-typical rate of absenteeism among Philadelphia’s immigrant schoolchildren in the 2020-2021 school year, even among those attending remotely.

“The Board of Education resolution happened because our community organized in the midst of a pandemic after having witnessed an attack by ICE on one of our community members, one which revealed a systemic lack of protections at the district level,” said Juntos Executive Director Erika Guadalupe Nuñez. Sanctuary schools are “the first step towards not only an ICE-free Philadelphia but an end to criminalization in schools and our city, and we are committed to this work until we reach our vision.”

Photo: Love Park in Philadelphia. Credit: Shuttesrtock