Portland Public Schools Puts Hurdles Between Immigration Officers, Students

By Rob Manning (OPB)
Nov. 18, 2016 8:45 p.m.
Portland's Cleveland High School hangs a message of welcoming, as students return from the Veterans Day break, Nov. 14, 2016.

Portland's Cleveland High School hangs a message of welcoming, as students return from the Veterans Day break, Nov. 14, 2016.

Rob Manning / OPB

The school board for Oregon’s largest district has moved to protect students from potential immigration enforcement under a resolution it approved unanimously Thursday.


The resolution blocks immigration officials from entering schools or accessing student records without first working through top district officials.

The first resolution item reads: "Any ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] Officer intending to enter any Portland Public Schools property must first notify the Superintendent and the District’s General Counsel, in person, of its intention, with adequate notice so that the Superintendent and General Counsel can take steps to provide for the emotional and physical safety of its students and staff."

The resolution also clarifies that the Superintendent "and/or General Counsel" can ask for credentials and an explanation for access to school property or records and can request a legal explanation for the request. The resolution goes on to say that ICE officers "must provide written authority" for what they're requesting.

Related: Portland Mayor-Elect Says He'll Shield Immigrants From Deportation

A statement from Portland Public Schools said officials are still "developing procedures for notifying families about ICE efforts to gain information about students and families."


Board member Julie Esparza Brown introduced the resolution. She said the idea is to keep students safe at school.

“We can’t control what happens at the national level," Esparza Brown said. "But in our own lives, at work, at school, in our communities and across our institutions we can stand up against any racism, sexism, xenophobia, any form of hatred or notion that would get in the way of the heart of democracy: That we are all created equal, that we are endowed with certain inalienable rights.”

Board members took turns reading the resolution in a show of solidarity — a rare thing for a school board that's been divided on many issues. Board members credited Interim Superintendent Bob McKean for bringing the resolution forward after learning of similar efforts in California. McKean, in turn, credited the board for responding.

"I just want to say how proud of the board I am," McKean said. "This is an example of how much these people that are volunteers up here care about kids and families."

Board members said they received many messages of support for the resolution. The only people to testify at the board meeting spoke in support.

Board member Steve Buel said he got some messages suggesting the board is delving unnecessarily into national politics.

"But for me, it's not political. What it is for me is I'm not the head of immigration, or I'm not any immigration board," said Buel. "I'm elected to make sure the children in this school district get a solid education, all of them. We don't need people coming in and pawing through kids' records. If they're going to do that, let them do it outside of our schools."

The resolution also forbids school staff from asking about a student’s immigration status.

McKean is tasked with crafting more specific policies and laying out guidance for training school staff within 90 days.

The San Francisco and Los Angeles school districts have taken similar steps following the election of Donald Trump. Some college campuses have also discussed establishing "sanctuary campuses," modeled on efforts by city governments to not cooperate with federal enforcement of immigration laws.