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Safe sanctuary haven granted for Central Okanagan immigrant students

Central Okanagan trustees adopt Sanctuary Schools Policy

Central Okanagan residents with children who face precarious or unresolved immigration status will not be denied access to public schooling.

The Central Okanagan Board of Education adopted a sanctuary schools policy, during an SD23 board meeting on Oct. 12, to support students living under conditions of uncertainty.

Trustees acted on an original presentation from the June 22 board meeting by Amy Cohen, a volunteer organizer with RAMA (Radical Action with Migrants in Agriculture) Okanagan regarding the development of a sanctuary schools policy.

The intent behind Cohen’s presentation was to ensure schools cannot share information about students with precarious, unresolved or no status to federal authorities, ensuring all children can enrol in school without fear while providing a safe place for families.

The policy was ironed out by the policy committee, with the support of the Deputy Minister of Education and Child Care Jennifer Whiteside, advising school boards not to exclude students of families with unresolved federal immigration status when reporting student enrolment for provincial operating grant funding.

Outgoing trustee Norah Bowman said she was happy to see a sanctuary schools policy adopted which reflected the values of the school district.

Incumbent trustee Lee-Ann Tiede reiterated the driving emphasis behind the policy is to provide a safe and welcoming environment for all students.

The policy is also meant to provide clear guidance to school district Welcome Centre staff, who assist all newcomers to Canada with school-aged children.

Welcome Centre staff process required documents, assist with school registration, provide orientation sessions, assess English language skills of students and offer ongoing support for families.

“Through their work, Welcome Centre staff members are connected to many newcomer communities in the Central Okanagan. These connections build trust between the community and district staff,” said a school administrative staff report.

While Welcome Centre staff have “navigated precarious immigration status scenarios and sensitive family issues related to immigration” in the past, the new policy is intended to provide clear guidance for staff to ensure children can access education despite any unresolved immigration status issues.

READ MORE: Sanctuary school policy debate initiated

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Barry Gerding

About the Author: Barry Gerding

Senior regional reporter for Black Press Media in the Okanagan. I have been a journalist in the B.C. community newspaper field for 37 years...
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