New Westminster School District to vote on sanctuary school policy

February 12, 2017

By Kevin Griffin, Vancouver Sun |

A sanctuary school policy for students with uncertain immigration status is expected to be approved by the New Westminster School District next month.

Mark Gifford, school trustee, said Thursday that the district’s education committee had voted unanimously in favour of adopting the new policy. The board will vote on the policy Tuesday, Feb. 28.

“The sanctuary school policy has been developed to ensure that all children can access public education in New Westminster without fear, regardless of their immigration status,” he said.

“It is not about international education students or visitors. It is about folks who, for whatever reason, are in a precarious immigration state.”

As far as implementing the new policy, Gifford said the district will have to go through a learning process over the next several months. Gifford expected it to be fully in place for enrolment for the 2017-2018 school year.
Earlier in January, the Burnaby School District adopted a similar approach but made a point of not using either the word sanctuary or policy.

Jodie Wilson, communications manager, described what was adopted Jan. 23 as “guidelines for addressing the access to services for residents with uncertain or no immigration status.” In an email quoting the guidelines, she said each situation would be “reviewed on a case-by-case basis with care and sensitivity.”

Harsha Walia, co-founder of the B.C. chapter of the immigrant rights group No One Is Illegal, said all that the School Act, which governs public education in B.C., requires is that a student be “ordinarily resident” in B.C.

Walia said that in the absence of direction from Victoria or a policy or set of guidelines in every district, each school can determine how it will treat students or parents with a questionable or non-existent immigrant status.

“Absolutely for us, it requires clarity from the province that the spirit of the law is that a student only needs to be ordinarily resident,” she said.

Walia said that No One Is Illegal had been working with the Burnaby school district for a year on the new approach.

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