By Anna Pier | Sonoma Sun – “Put Yourself in My Shoes” was the title of Sonoma Valley High School student María Castillo’s plaintive appeal to the school board and superintendent during public comment at the February 14 regular meeting. The teenager urged members to study the faces of immigrant students to see the fear they are living with. “I know life is not fair, but why not try to make it?” challenged the well-spoken student who asked the trustees to address the perilous situation for immigrants in the district’s schools.
Next came SVHS junior Rosa Zamudio, who was overcome by the emotions she was expressing. Castillo took over for her, reading Rosa’s statement about the threatening situation for her education. She spoke of her sister who had earned a B.A. and her brother who is studying medicine. Both girls pointed out that their parents came to the U.S. to give their children more opportunities.
The two high school students spoke following Claudia Robbins, who introduced formally the request that the SVUSD adopt a “safe haven” policy. She referred to a draft resolution that includes the work of the district’s legal counsel and input from “It Won’t Happen Here” which has a battery of immigration lawyers from Santa Rosa, San Francisco and UC Berkeley. She emphasized that the policy needs to include training and preparedness for all school staff. Robbins, a retired ESL teacher, is a volunteer citizenship teacher in the Family Resource Center at El Verano School.
The Community Meeting Room was overflowing with almost 50 men, women, teens and children assembled in support of the initiative to make their Valley schools a “safe haven.” Most wore red, and all raised high Valentine’s hearts in solidarity with each speaker who addressed the deportation threat that the immigrant community is facing from the Trump administration.
Karym Sánchez spoke next, urging board members to join Santa Rosa City Schools, Windsor and other districts that have adopted the “safe haven” policy, including a plan for their immigrant families. He invited the trustees and superintendent to attend a forum about creating safe haven schools on February 26, offered by North Bay Organizing Project and Cradle to Career.
Haby Castillo, a middle school student, described to the board a “normal day” in which, after school, she buries herself in school work and art, but can’t help hearing the television reports of the dangers threatening her world, her community. She said she tries to distract herself with activities she enjoys, but she broke down weeping as she told the trustees and the superintendent, “I need your help.”
Next to speak was Loretta Carpio Carr, retired local ESL teacher, born to a family of immigrant laborers in the San Joaquín valley. She advocated for assurance from the district that they value and will protect their immigrant families that, as she pointed out, are a majority of students in our district. Carr mentioned that Tom Torlakson, state superintendent of public education, has urged districts to draft safe haven policies.
Katie Morrison, second grade teacher at El Verano and pastor of First Congregational Church, told the trustees that her “mandate as a teacher is to protect my students.” She has noted a shift in the social, emotional wellbeing of these young students with the advent of the Trump administration. She asked the board to make a statement of support, backed up by a policy and response plan.
Several retired teachers added their voices to the request for a safe haven policy and plan. Celeste Winders, a Muslim, and member of the district’s diversity task force, then focused on the double challenge for parents of students with disabilities. These children, “the most vulnerable students,” need their parents’ advocacy but the fear of speaking up or drawing attention to themselves is affecting those parents. Winders told the trustees “children are looking to the adults to do the right thing.” She was followed by María Moreno, parent and Adele Harrison teacher, who called for a public declaration and policy, “holding ourselves to our high values.”
Superintendent Louann Carlomagno announced a special meeting of the board on Tuesday, February 28 at 6:30 at Altimira Middle School. “Safe Haven” will be an action item at that time. Board chair Dan Gustafson affirmed that “we need to help parents know what they can do.” There was mention that the draft proposal could be reviewed and edits proposed prior to meeting.
Mario Castillo took the podium to remind trustees and the superintendent that this demand is not only for Mexican and Latino families, but for the other immigrants whose children are in schools in our district. Fred Allebach spoke briefly to encourage the board to take action, realizing that in so doing they might start a tipping process, as businesses and other entities might follow the example. Trustee John Kelly concluded that this is “the moment for us to recommit to the values we already have.”