Government Schools / Kids

It’s Unanimous—South Orange, Maplewood & School District Declare ‘Sanctuary’

On Monday night, the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education joined the governing bodies of the townships of both Maplewood and South Orange in adopting a “sanctuary” resolution welcoming immigrants and safeguarding their private information.

In a 9-0 vote, the Board of Education adopted a resolution that read in part: “[T]he School District of South Orange Maplewood has a well-settled obligation under the Constitution of the United States to provide a free and appropriate public education to all school-age children without regard to their immigration status or their family members’ immigration status.”

The resolution then continued, with language ensuring a welcoming atmosphere for all students and stating that the District “will protect student confidentiality and will not share private information unless required by law or a court order, and we expect all persons employed by and in the South Orange Maplewood School District to protect student privacy and confidentiality as well.”

“In addition to expressing our support and welcome to members of our school community who are immigrants, this resolution responds to the incidents of ethnic, national origin and religious bias that are becoming more and more frequent — both nationally and here in South Orange and Maplewood,” Board of Education President Elizabeth Baker told Village Green. “As a school community we must continue to combat bias in all its manifestations.”

Read the full resolution below.

The South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education joins the Maplewood Township Committee and the South Orange Village Board of Trustees in adopting a “Sanctuary” or “Welcoming Community” resolution. All three resolutions state that the municipalities or district will obey federal and local laws but draw the line at collecting and sharing the immigration status and other personal information of students’ families and constituents.

Maplewood adopted its resolution in January before the Presidential inauguration. South Orange modeled its resolution on Maplewood’s but decided to use the term “sanctuary” in the title and the language of the resolution; the resolution passed in February.

In announcing the school district’s draft resolution at a town hall last week, Board of Education President Elizabeth Baker said, “For the last seven years, our schools have been under attack … as we’ve lost money … from Trenton, making it very hard to meet the day-to-day needs of our students.” She added, “Now we are under attack on the federal level. Not only are our schools going to be defunded and federal programs dismantled but the rights of vulnerable students … staff, families, children are under attack. We have stood up, with and for our students of color, our students with disabilities, our transgender students.”

Baker said that the school district now wanted to send a message to “our immigrant family members [that] everyone is welcome in our schools. We will honor our Constitutional obligation to educate all of our children.”

The newly formed local activist group SOMA Action vocally supported and rallied for the South Orange and the Board of Education resolutions. On Facebook after the Board of Ed vote, SOMA Action members were euphoric. Wrote Pete Cenedella, “Unanimous is fantastic. Thank you to school board members who don’t always agree on everything for coming together on this and identifying our common enemy clearly. COMPASSION is part of our culture.”

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Photo is from a SOMA Action rally outside the South Orange Village Board of Trustees meeting in February. Photo credit: Matt Peyton. Click to enlarge:

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