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caption: School busses line up at the end of the school day on Monday, January 7, 2019, at Garfield High School in Seattle.
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School busses line up at the end of the school day on Monday, January 7, 2019, at Garfield High School in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

State lawmakers aim to make WA schools safer for undocumented students

The bill would prohibit schools from asking students and parents about their immigration status, among other sensitive information.

The proposed legislation would require school officials to direct any immigration agent to the district's superintendent. And even then, an ICE agent would have to present a signed judicial warrant before accessing school grounds or student records.

While a past U.S. Supreme Court ruling already mandates the same privacy rights for undocumented individuals, Senate Bill 5834 aims to further protect families at the state level. It would cover smaller school districts that may not already have such a policy in place.

"We have federal laws [but] we also want students and their families to be secure in attending their schools and knowing what their rights are and this helps clarify that," said bill sponsor Sen. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, at a hearing Wednesday.

Gayle Mar-Chun, a retired school principal from Olympia testified in favor of the bill, sharing an anecdote.

"One of our kindergarten teachers had a little boy who brought his suitcase with him for two days,” Mar-Chun said. “When asked why he said ‘I want to have my special things when they [ICE] come to get me.’"

Some advocates have asked that the bill to go a step further by adding a protected 500-foot radius, or so-called “safe school zone” around schools for safe drop-offs and pick-ups. They said this would combat a “chilling effect” prompted by fears of undocumented parents being apprehended by ICE, in the way one parent was in California in 2017.

Officials with the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, however, have raised concerns about the legislation. A spokesman said the agency supports students but doesn’t want the bill to get in the way of law enforcement.