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Photo: Juntos Twitter
Juntos' Sanctuary School campaign mad major strides yesterday. Graphic: Twitter- Juntos

Philly School Board unanimously passes Welcoming Sanctuary Schools resolution in major win Juntos

The grassroots organization first unveiled its Sanctuary School campaign after discovering not many employees in the district knew its ICE policies.

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Last night, at the Board of Education Action Meeting, the Philadelphia School Board unanimously voted to pass the Welcoming Sanctuary Schools resolution, which was introduced by the South Philly Latino-led organization, Juntos

The resolution was the first demand Juntos brought to City Council, as part of their Sanctuary School campaign, a five-point platform with demands to end criminalization, disinvestment, assimilation, and systemic violence in the Philadelphia school system. 

The Welcoming Sanctuary Schools resolution and its accompanying endorsement by Philadelphia City Council, introduced by Councilmember Helen Gym, were sealed just over a year after a pregnant immigrant woman was detained by ICE officials outside of Kirkbride Elementary School. 

The event sparked much panic and worry for immigrant students and their families, and led Juntos to conduct their own research into the systemic issues at play, including the lack of district staff training on how to best support these families. 

Between December of 2020 and January of 2021, Juntos interviewed around 350 employees about the school district’s policies concerning ICE’s presence and power. 

According to this study, 75% of participants admitted to not having any training at all on how to interact with ICE at their schools. 

The Welcoming Sanctuary Schools Resolution enacts several measures intended to protect immigrant youth and families in the district. It will implement a “Sanctuary Schools” position, which acknowledges that any federal immigration enforcement on or around school property is harmful to students and their families. 

The resolution implements clear protocols that stand against any ICE presence, requests and activities in district schools. It will offer extensive training for all District staff, contractors and even volunteers on how to properly respond to ICE.

It will create and maintain a clear emergency response plan within the District to secure the health and safety of students and families affected by federal enforcement actions. 

Lastly, the resolution requires teachers, parents and community organizations to fully commit to engaging in the implementation process as these measures go into effect.

Juntos members and community leaders recognize the significance of the Welcoming Sanctuary Schools resolution as a crucial first step towards building a comprehensive city-wide system of protections against ICE.

However, the leaders also made clear that it’s not just about ICE, but about creating sanctuary from all forces that criminalize Black, Brown and immigrant youth, families and individuals in Philadelphia.

“This is 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,” said Erika Guadalupe Nuñez, Executive Director of Juntos.

On June 24, Guadalupe Mendez, Juntos’ Youth Program Coordinator, testified during a Board of Education hearing, stating that sanctuary goes further than keeping ICE out of schools, it’s about protecting the innocence of students.

“Schools should be where their souls are fulfilled and cared for, they should be able to flourish into their best person instead of being criminalized. They should carry the knowledge that leaders in their community are doing everything in their power to protect them,” Mendez said.

Edgar Villegas, Juntos Youth Leader and recent graduate of Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts, also testified at the hearing, echoing Mendez’s statement.

“We want safe schools, free of police, free of ICE, free of any criminalizing forces like metal detectors or surveillance. We want a space where we are able to embrace who we are and learn about where we come from,” Villegas said.

The unanimous vote to pass the Welcoming Sanctuary Schools resolution is a huge win for Juntos, whose mission has always included educational justice, and the fight for the freedom for all Philadelphia residents to live with dignity regardless of immigration status.

Over the past year, immigrant students and their families have continued to face many hurdles in accessing quality education, hoping for the day when Philadelphia schools follow through on their commitment to protect and support them.

Juntos believes that their ongoing efforts will inspire even more action.

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