We are one DJUSD family
The holiday season brings an occasion for giving as well as time to enjoy the company of family and friends. For so many of us, this time of year brings rest, reflection and good cheer. There are so many reasons to celebrate in this season. I hope you have the chance to take in some of the festivities and enjoy the voices and musical talents of our extraordinary Davis students as they perform at our schools.
Building and Sustaining Safe Learning Environments
Over the last month, we have been hearing concerns and fears from our parents and students pertaining to the post-election season. This is a real and poignant issue for so many in our community. I want to reassure each of you that Davis Joint Unified School District (DJUSD) is a place for all students and for all families. In addition to looking closely at our procedures and practices, we are actively engaged in crafting a meaningful resolution that will reinforce our values of diversity and inclusion and reflect our Davis community. I continue to meet with staff, parents and community members to engage around how to reduce fear and anxiety in our community, especially as it pertains to students and families who may feel marginalized or targeted because of their race, color, ancestry, national origin, ethnic group identification, age, religion, marital or parental status, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, gender expression, or immigration status. Creating safe spaces is one way of protecting our children. Equally important is our commitment to the protection of student information and privacy.
Davis schools are not allowed to inquire about immigration status – we do not and will not be asking for any immigration status from students or families. The 1982 Supreme Court case Plyler v. Doe provides for Fourteenth Amendment equal protection, specifically including the right to a public education for all students, including undocumented students. With that decision, important protections surrounding student privacy exist. If the District incidentally is provided information about a student’s immigration status, we are not required to collect nor do we share that information. In short, immigration status is not of interest to our schools; we don’t collect or share that private information.
The theme of this holiday message underscores that no matter where you come from, you are part of the DJUSD family. We are committed to protect all our children and to our serving all our families.
Living the Message: Caring Sharing and Helping Others
As we prepare for Winter Break, we reflect on and find ways to assist those in our community who most need our support and good thoughts. In Davis, this year, there are students and families who will be hungry this holiday. Some will have no home or safe shelter. Hold in your thoughts our students with a family member serving in combat as well as those who have a heightened sense of anxiety because they have been personally targeted or bullied or fear changes in our country’s immigration laws and policies. For those who struggle with mental illness, the holidays can be a time of isolation and pain. For those grappling with finances, the holidays can exacerbate already tight budgets. We know all of this, and each day, we work with school staffs, as well as with our greater community to find ways to provide support and build resilience in our adults and young people.
A look at history reminds us that community is often built out of struggle. Adversity or division often lay the foundations to strengthen values that bond people together. Even as our nation or neighborhood may be fraught with difference and misunderstanding, we in this public institution are drawn together by our desire and responsibility to make schools safe and welcoming places for every child.
While laws and policies undergird these values, it is the caring and connection offered by all of our hardworking staff that truly create a positive culture for all students, ensuring school is a place where every student feels like they belong. In DJUSD, we are always working to improve our ability to lift up and truly value diverse perspectives, and are dedicated not only to protecting the rights, but also to ensuring the equitable treatment as well as the physical, social and emotional health for all students.
Witness the spirit of community across DJUSD:
Beyond laws, school board policies, and the actions of adults, where I have truly been awed by the themes of the season, is in the words and actions of students. I could not be more proud of the school efforts we see underway to provide aid and support to local students and families, especially to those in need. It is the small gestures of warmth and friendship--a hand up, a smile, joining a classmate on the buddy bench or leaving notes expressing care around campus. In their vocal or unspoken support for vulnerable others, our students are showing us that they embrace the deep values of our community, a restorative culture built of strong relationships and respect for the dignity of each person. Here are just a few examples of their holiday spirit:
Harper Junior High Adopt a Family- Many families and staff members are involved in the adoption of 17 families and 15 youths for the holiday season. The anonymous effort delivers care, gifts and food to families who are in need in this very fragile time.
Pioneer Elementary 5th Graders- Holiday Cards for Heroes- Students working with teacher Michelle Stellmacher are spreading holiday cheer to Veterans. Their hand-made cards will be distributed to the local VA hospital, Veterans Retirement home, and National Guard units.
Holmes Junior High collects supplies for Homeless- Fifty students in the leadership class are running an all-student class contest to collect much needed supplies like socks, t-shirts, toothbrushes, towels, etc. for the Davis Community Shelter during this cold and rainy holiday season.
César Chávez Elementary shows a community together can make a difference- Students collected more than 9000 used books and together with staff and volunteers organized a used book fair for the community. The more than $1800 in proceeds from sales will benefit the Yolo Short Term Emergency Aid Committee (STEAC).
Davis Senior High School collect books for Holiday Give Away and Cans for STEAC— English Teachers and students organized the collection of hundreds of books for the STEAC Holiday program. The collection was donated to the STEAC Book Give-away that is a highlight of the holiday season for many local recipients. In addition, DSHS Student Government class organized a STEAC canned food drive yielding more than 1300 cans for the charity. Note, many STEAC can drives are happening on campuses and in departments across our school district, often run by student leaders and supported by school staff.
Montgomery Elementary Food Packs- Each week approximately 40 families head into the weekend with a backpack full of food thanks to a collaboration between STEAC, the Center for Families and Montgomery Elementary. Food Packs for Families helps combat food insecurity right here in our community.
In addition, to these exceptional school-based efforts, we are seeing community dinners, running clubs, student-student outreach from older to younger students, and much, much more on campuses across our district this season and throughout the school year. To me, there is no greater joy than seeing students and school staff working together to share a positive holiday spirit with others. This is where the true themes of the season work their magic.
GIFT OF EDUCATION
We appreciate the gifts given and we also take a moment to also reflect on gifts received. In this gift giving season, certainly there is no greater gift given to our schools than the passage of the Measure H parcel tax. The parcel tax guarantees that for the next eight years, we will continue to be able to provide the quality programs and services to students that differentiate Davis Joint Unified from other districts. Your dedication to prioritizing education in our community is a testament to the decades of support Davis has provided for our students, teachers and schools.
I hope this holiday season, you find time and space to reflect on the values that bind us closer together. I know I will continue to find wonder in the positive energy and initiative of Davis youth. I take pleasure in knowing our schools and staff play an important part in their growth and development. I wish you a pleasant winter break and may our New Year be filled with hope and optimism. We look forward to welcoming you all back in January.
Best wishes this season,
John A. Bowes, Ed.D.
The recent national election has left our country and community divided on many fronts. This dissension has caused a myriad of emotional responses among members of our school community. Of particular concern to many is the possibility of any future federal immigration policies that might affect undocumented individuals (and or their children), some who live in our school boundaries and may attend our schools. We have taken these matters seriously, and I want to let you know this evening we have been analyzing and planning for a comprehensive and thoughtful approach. It is important for us to fully understand the real implications of any actions we would propose to take at the local level.
Our primary goal is to ensure that our schools are safe and secure learning environments, both for students and staff. We care about their physical and social/emotional health.
Prior to the election, the Davis Enterprise published my Op Ed entitled, “Our Schools Should be Places Where All Students Can Flourish”. That column identified steps we are taking to ensure the social and emotional health of students, to provide quality programs for all students and how we are going about closing the achievement and opportunity gaps that exist in our District.
Immediately after the election, my team took steps to communicate with families and staff about school climate in the post-election season. I sent a letter to all families in the DJUSD which addressed our focus on creating safe learning environments for all students . Additionally, we have made staff aware of these issues and are providing direction and support services to address these mutual concerns. Both the Op Ed and the Letter can be read on the District website and using the translation function at the bottom of our website it can be viewed in Spanish and many other languages.
This is a very real and poignant issue for so many in our community. I want to reassure our community we are engaged on this important topic. I spoke to that yesterday evening at a meeting I attended at the Stephens Branch Library hosted by the City Council, Police Department and UC Davis focused on how we can create a positive and sustainable community for all of our citizens, including families and students at our school sites as regards this topic.
I met a number of parents and community members and continue to gather impartial information from staff, parents and community members engaged around how to reduce fear and anxiety in our community. Please be assured we are and will continue to address this issue and I will be communicating with families and students next week before we recess for the winter break.
I attended an important press conference in Woodland on December 5 concerning the hate letter sent to the Islamic Center in Davis. The clear message from Yolo County, Woodland and Davis leaders is that we will not stand for this. We must ensure we all act on the guidance given at the press conference – “If you see something, say something.”
Safety on the playground, in classrooms, in schools and in our community is a vital mutual interest in which we all must play a part – just today we learned of the attempted abduction of a 12-year old in town and we shared the police information with all of our parents and staff. We can make our community safer by supporting each other to create safe spaces across Davis for our youth. This includes making our schools and communities free from hate speech and harassment. We know that fear and anxiety are both stressful and inhibit students’ ability to learn – schools are and will continue to be safe and secure learning environments.
We have heard the concerns that have been shared and I want to address those now:
The District has not collected nor will it collect information regarding the immigration status of students. The 1982 Supreme Court case Plyler vs. Doe provides 14th amendment equal protection that ensures that all students, including immigrant students, have a fundamental right to a public education. With that decision, important protections surrounding student privacy exist. The DJUSD is not allowed to inquire about immigration status – we do not and will not be asking for any students’ immigration status. Further, if the District incidentally is provided information about a student’s immigration status, we are not required to collect nor do we share that information.
When discussing any federally-controlled issue, we need to be cognizant of our federal funds. Federal funding supplies almost five percent of our annual budget in the DJUSD. These 3.2 million federal dollars fund critical programs for students receiving services through Special Education, English Learner, Perkins Grant Career Technical Education, and our free and reduced meal programs. Many of the students receiving these services are our students caught in the achievement and opportunity gap. Some students rely on our schools for one to two meals per day and we know students learn best when their basic needs are meet – we do not want to lose funding for any of these critical programs which serve all students across the district, including many undocumented students.
While we are not the first out of the gate, DJUSD is actively engaged in addressing this issue. We know of five out of the over 1000 school districts in California that have adopted some sort of recent safe schools resolution and these include Oakland, Los Angles, Basset, San Diego and Sacramento.
I very much appreciate the many suggestions we have received in what to include in a resolution to protect the rights of students in the DJUSD, and accept those collaborative efforts in that same spirit. This is very important and the District is actively researching and reviewing a wide variety of information as we develop our proposed resolution. Our goal is to craft a meaningful resolution that reflects our Davis community.
There are many unknowns. Undefined terms and a pending new Presidential administration with developing policy directives are all reasons to take a deliberate and meaningful approach to this work.
The City of Davis has been a sanctuary city for 36 years – during that time the District and City along with the university have worked in concert with each other to support the Davis Principles of One Community established in 2008 and we are committed to those beliefs and values. ‘Sanctuary’ is an undefined term, as is the term ‘safe-haven’.
It is too early to know what policy changes the incoming federal administration might propose and implement. However, we should anticipate that any enforcement action would most likely take the form of a threat to cut off some or all federal funds to non-compliant public school districts. A recent Davis Enterprise article cites the president-elect vowing “to cut off federal funding to any jurisdictions that provide sanctuary to undocumented residents.” The impacts of a loss of federal funding would hamper our efforts to serve many of our most vulnerable students and we must approach this area with all due diligence.
We are not alone in these efforts.
There is pending California state legislation to assist school districts on the immigration issue
Under existing law, the confidentiality of pupil records does NOT permit the disclosure of student record information, including citizenship or immigrant status to immigration authorities, except in response to a lawful subpoena after notice to the parent, upon written parent consent, or in response to an evident emergency.
We have looked at the federal policy related to the enforcement of immigration policy at schools. In regard to the enforcement action at or focused at schools, we believe that current federal policy has school districts classified as sensitive locations. While this federal policy treats schools as ‘sensitive locations’ thereby providing schools greater types of protection from immigration enforcement efforts, it does not entirely prohibit immigration-related actions from taking place at school sites.
State Senator President Pro Tem Kevin de León has announced a bill (SB 54) that would create “safe zones” at public schools where immigrant enforcement would be prohibited.
In seeking to establishing “safe zones” for immigrants in the country illegally, SB 54 would require California schools, hospitals and courthouses to adopt policies that limit immigration enforcement on their premises to the fullest extent possible consistent with federal and state law. We are monitoring the progress of this bill to see how it could assist school districts on the immigration issue
This will be an ongoing effort that will be seen and felt at all levels. What we say is critical but what we do makes the difference. Right now, we are engaging with staff, parents, students and community leaders around this issue. I am holding meetings with staff to review our procedures and learn about how we can improve our processes and efforts to make schools safe and productive learning environments for all students and protect information.
Steps to inform and improve our practices will include my visits to school sites in January to engage those most directly affected by potential changes to immigration policies. I am glad to see so many people hear this evening advocating for those who historically have less agency and voice in the community. One thing I learned as a teacher in immigrant communities of Los Angeles and during my tenure as Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala is that if you don’t make the effort to engage those most directly in need, you will never fully engage those who are in need of assistance.
We are a community that cares. This is part of what we mean by focusing on social and emotional support for students—modeling for them and helping them learn how to create a caring community. We are all made healthy by caring for others, no matter our circumstances. To further that work, we are
a) Crafting a resolution stating our beliefs about this issue and that also reinforces our values, reduces fear and anxiety, protects student information and promotes safe learning environments
b) Reaffirming for the community our current practices concerning student safety and immigration information
c) Continuing to analyze what safety and other precautions should be taken at the local level including providing resources to parents and students
d) Making any needed changes to Board Policies, Administrative Regulations and other documents to ensure a meaningful and robust application of our Resolution
e) Reviewing and updating any school site and district data collection procedures regarding hate speech, bullying, harassment and related concerns
f) Developing training staff on how to implement the resolution
g) Sharing information and, where we can, in multiple languages (there are 38 of them spoken in our District), and across different communication and social media platforms
I will be communicating with families and the community next week as we approach the winter break and visiting school sites and meeting with parents when we return from the winter break.
First-hand knowledge and insights from those most impacted will help to inform the development of a District resolution.
We know that the Presidential inauguration is on January 20 and we will be looking at the potential impacts of any new or predicted policy changes affecting immigration and schools.
I will provide an update to the Board at our January Board meeting and ask for their direction in bringing a Resolution forward.
The ability of the Davis Joint Unified School District to support students who feel vulnerable will help both those individual students and will help create safer schools for all students we serve.