Central Okanagan school district moving ahead with sanctuary schools policy

Sanctuary schools a go

The Central Okanagan Board of Education has unanimously approved a motion to establish a sanctuary school policy.

Amy Cohen of Radical Action with Migrants In Agriculture says RAMA is thrilled.

“This is such an important step for families with precarious status living in our community whose children will now be able to access education without fear,” she said.

“This policy will mean that all children residing in our district will be able to go to school regardless of their status, or their parents' status. The school trustees' unanimous decision to make our district a sanctuary school district affirms all children's right to education and means our schools will continue to be welcoming and open places for everyone.” .

Cohen made a presentation to the board Wednesday night.

She spoke in support of the motion brought forward by Trustee Norah Bowman .

Cohen, who is also a professor at Okanagan College, says there has been a huge increase in people with precarious or no status in the Central Okanagan over the past five years.

“It's very difficult to track numbers of folks who have no status because they are forced to live in the shadows. We really don’t know how many people. We don’t have exact numbers, but we know from advocates and from anecdotal evidence that the number is increasing and that every year there’s probably in the hundreds of people, at least, in the Kelowna area who have no status.”

She says if you add those with precarious status, it’s likely in the thousands. How many children might be among them is unknown.

Cohen adds that it’s about following through on B.C.’s guarantee of access to education without fear.

“It doesn’t matter if this helps one or 100 kids, it’s worth it.”

New Westminster was the first district in the province to introduce a sanctuary schools policy in 2017.

Bowman says she introduced the notice of motion after attending the British Columbia School Trustees Association AGM, where a resolution was passed that called for the BCSTA to develop a template to help boards of education remove barriers to registration for students with precarious or no immigration status in their districts.

Central Okanagan Public Schools is the second district in the province to become a sanctuary district.

Cohen says this sends an important message that our community and our schools are safe and inclusive places for everyone regardless of their migration status.

The policy likely won’t be implemented in SD 23 until the 2022-23 school year.

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