LAS VEGAS – Amid stories of schoolchildren taunting classmates that they face deportation under a new president, school trustees in Las Vegas approved a measure Thursday to reassure students and families that they have immigration safe haven regardless of their citizenship status.
An overflow crowd and more than a dozen speakers turned out for the vote that Clark County School District board member Carolyn Edwards called a response to President Donald Trump's promises to deport people living in the U.S. without legal permission.
"We will continue to do what we are already doing in terms of protecting the privacy of our students," she said.
Edwards said the resolution was not about sanctuary, but restated protections that children of immigrants have under the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals act that former President Barack Obama renewed with a signing ceremony at a Las Vegas high school in November 2014.
Her measure passed 6-1, with no comment from the dissenting board member, Chris Garvey. It said information about students' immigration status won't be released to immigration enforcement agencies including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement "unless there is parent consent, a judicial warrant, subpoena, or court order."
"We need to protect the children," trustee Linda Young said. "With all that's going on in the world, we need to protect the children."
Immigration policy is a hot topic in Las Vegas, where administrators say students speak some 70 languages and almost half the district's 322,000 students claim Hispanic heritage.
Edwards' resolution drew more attention after President Trump on Wednesday called for rapid construction of a U.S.-Mexico border wall and signed an executive order to strip federal grant funding for immigrant-protecting "sanctuary cities." The document made no explicit mention of public schools or universities.
One grandmother, Vicenta Montoya, told Las Vegas trustees that a 9-year-old girl she reads with after school told her about 4th-graders using a sing-song taunt to tell classmates that they now face deportation.
"They said, 'You're gonna go. You're gonna go. They're going to take you,'" Montoya said.
"This is affecting all students," she said.
Carolina Chacon, a former undocumented school student in Las Vegas who became valedictorian of her high school class 10 years ago, became tearful as she said every child deserves to feel safe, protected and able to focus on their schoolwork without worry.
"As guardians of our students, you understand how important it is to ensure the academic futures of our children," she said.
Public school districts in other cities have considered or passed similar statements in recent months, including Los Angeles and Oakland in California; Portland, Oregon; Santa Fe, New Mexico; El Paso, Texas; Denver and Minneapolis.
Some 90,000 students in Denver recently took home letters in response to what teachers reported hearing from students and parents. In four languages, the letter said school officials do not ask about immigration status when students enroll.
The sprawling Clark County district is the fifth-largest in the nation. It covers a county almost the size of New Jersey, and has 351 campuses including 49 high schools.
Several colleges and universities around the country also have committed to offering sanctuary and financial support to immigrant students, and to not voluntarily help the federal government deport students.