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Districts Hold Tight on S.B. 1070

Administrators are concerned about enrollment and the role of police and other security officers.

When a federal judge in late July issued a hold on four key provisions of Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070, opponents breathed a sigh of relief and supporters such as Gov. Jan Brewer vowed to press on to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.

The July 28 ruling stopped provisions that would have required officers to “make a reasonable attempt to determine the immigration status” of a person stopped or detained on “reasonable suspicion” of their having committed a crime.

The 2008 American Community Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that Arizona’s population is 14 percent foreign-born, the ninth highest percentage of any state. For K12 administrators, the ruling meant at least a delay in determining the full effect of the bill on issues like enrollment and interactions with police—who sometimes are deployed on campus and sometimes just for special events like football games—but superintendents say those issues were top of mind last summer.


Gubernatorial spokeswoman Tasya Peterson says the effects of the law on K12 districts and in general will remain “speculation” until it’s enforced. State deputy superintendent Margaret Dugan, who’s running for state superintendent this year, says that she had heard anecdotally that some districts expected lower enrollments, perhaps because immigrants were leaving the state for fear that 1070 will go into effect.

Sunnyside Unified School District, located on the southern outskirts of Tucson just 70 miles from the Mexican border, attributes the loss of 200 students last school year to another law that sanctions employers for hiring illegal immigrants. The district expects similar effects if S.B. 1070 goes forward, says Superintendent Manuel Isquierdo, who is also president of the Arizona Hispanic School Administrators.

Role of Law Enforcement in Question

The governing board of the Tucson Unified School District did not have any projection that enrollment would decrease but expressed concerns that potential misinformation in the community would lead people to think district personnel would be enforcing S.B. 1070. Such concerns led the board to pass a policy saying otherwise, says Rob Ross, lead legal counsel for the district.

“As one of our board members said, this [policy] is really just a statement of the law,” Ross says, referring to the 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision Plyler v. Doe, which overturned a Texas law aimed at prohibiting local school districts from educating undocumented immigrants. “They wanted to make sure the word was out there, so people wouldn’t be afraid to come to school.”

But the other concern about the potential impact of S.B. 1070 on the behavior of law enforcement officers called to any K12 campus is not something Tucson or any district could address through a policy; rather, they would have to uphold S.B. 1070 like any other state legislation. “That’s a concern, but I don’t think there’s any policy or action we could take to stop that [i.e., officers verifying detainees’ legal status] from happening,” Ross says.

Phoenix Union High School District reached out to families to assure them that its teachers were not immigration officers, says Superintendent Kent Scribner. However, law enforcement officers in all school buildings could potentially become involved in immigration issues if S.B. 1070 goes forward on appeal. “As educators, our role is to focus on teaching and learning,” he says. “The officers who are there on campus will become engaged with students when a crime has been committed.”

Phoenix Elementary School District held a meeting with local police last July in which the police said they don’t come to campus to enforce immigration-related laws, says Myriam Roa, the district’s superintendent. “They were very positive, in my opinion, about wanting to maintain their good relationship with the schools.”

Legal counsel in Mesa Unified has clarified that S.B. 1070 would require a two-step process to go into effect. A student would first have to be suspected of violating a law, and then an officer would have to verify immigration papers.

Carlos Garcia, president of the Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents, is concerned that an undocumented child with knowledge of a crime might be afraid to approach police or school resource officers on campus. Garcia, who is also superintendent of the San Francisco (Calif.) Unified School District, gained his school board’s approval for a travel boycott of the state of Arizona that applies to all district employees, due to what the district views as an anti-immigrant atmosphere.

Police on Their Side

Sunnyside, the only school district to join a police lawsuit against S.B. 1070, has kept police officers out of that dilemma. “We enjoy a wonderful relationship with our [city police department],” Isquierdo said. “They’ve come out and said they’re concerned about their role.” From the state department of education’s perspective, S.B. 1070 should not change how educators go about their business, Dugan says. “We never did ask their [students’] citizenship,” she says. “Federal law says you cannot.”