The Dayton Public Schools Board of Education has voted in favor of a resolution that supporters said offers support to immigrant students. Opponents, however, said it made Dayton a sanctuary school district for illegal immigrants. STAFF

Safe schools or sanctuary district? Dayton action stirs controversy.

Dayton school board members approved a resolution Tuesday night supporting immigrant students, including those here illegally, despite concerns from one board member who questioned the need and timing of the issue.

Two state lawmakers condemned the board action, which they said made Dayton a sanctuary district when it should focus solely on improving its academic performance.

The resolution declared Dayton Public Schools as a “Safe and Welcoming School District.”

Board member Mohamed Al-Hamdani said he drafted the measure in consultation with an attorney and other school districts.

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Al-Hamdani, an immigration attorney, said he believes it’s a troubling time in the country for those who are of different backgrounds and nationalities, including students who may have undocumented parents.

“I want to make sure our district feels safe for those kids, because a lot of those children are not feeling very safe right now, and their families don’t feel safe,” he said. “We’ve heard as a district that some of the parents are starting to pull their kids out of school because they are afraid we will turn them over to ICE.”

Five members voted for its approval, with board member John McManus voting to abstain based on legal concerns he had with the legislation. Board member Sheila Taylor was absent.

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McManus said he reached out to Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli prior to the vote to get more information about the resolution. She referred him to Al-Hamdani, McManus said.

McManus questioned the need for passage of the resolution.

He said the district is well aware of and in compliance with a June 1982 Supreme Court landmark decision, known as Plyler v. Doe, which says states cannot constitutionally deny students a free public education on account of their immigration status.

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“That is already existing, so when I was going through this resolution, my question was: What are we doing here?” McManus asked. “What was the intent behind this?”

Al-Hamdani explained that, across the country, some school boards have voted to declare their districts “safe havens,” or “sanctuaries,” which means the district will offer protection and help students and their families that are illegal immigrants.

Two state representatives from the Dayton area, Niraj Antani (R-Miamisburg) and Phil Plummer (R-Dayton), issued statement Wednesday afternoon opposing the newly-passed resolution.

“Dayton School Board members should focus on bettering Dayton Public Schools, currently F-rated, for their students instead of voting to become a sanctuary for illegal immigrants. Our nation has enough problems with illegal immigration. Our community should not be encouraging it,” Antani said.

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Plummer said: “The Dayton Public School Board should focus on improving the quality of education for our students and refrain from implementing unnecessary failed policies which could jeopardize the safety of our children.”

McManus and board member Robert Walker said they felt the resolution should have a second look legally to make sure it is in compliance with the law and does not make an attempt to ignore federal law. Walker, however, voted in favor.

Sanctuary status in most school districts means that staff will not allow federal immigration agents on school premises without a warrant, subpoena or court order, or otherwise legally required to do so.

Any request by immigration agents to enter a school building, or obtain information about students, would have to be approved by the superintendent or the school district’s legal staff.

Under a federal policy, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents are prohibited from making arrests at “sensitive locations,” which include schools, churches, hospitals and protest rallies, except under circumstances they consider urgent or with permission from a site supervisor, according to the ICE website.

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