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  • Writer's pictureVoces Unidas de las Montañas

Immigrant students deserve to be safe at school

Whether from bullying, violent intruders, environmental hazards, or any other type of threat, students deserve to feel safe at school. But what happens when students feel threatened by the very people supposedly hired to protect them?

That’s the scenario that has been playing out for students from immigrant families in surrounding school districts since the Garfield County Board of Commissioners passed a hostile “anti-sanctuary” resolution encouraging the County Sheriff’s office to proactively work with federal immigration enforcement agents this winter. And it must end immediately.

Since the Garfield BOCC resolution was passed on March 4, Voces Unidas has been reviewing contracts between the sheriff’s office and the three local school districts operating in Garfield County. Public records confirmed that all three school districts purchased some sort of additional security services from the County Sheriff's office. 

Voces Unidas believes that it is inappropriate for a school district to contract with a known hostile government that is proactively working with federal immigration enforcement agencies because it places immigrant students and their families in grave danger. 

Since learning of these contracts, we have been working with school districts both publicly and behind the scenes to make sure that district officials understand the consequences to immigrant students and their families as a result of hiring a hostile vendor. 

Roaring Fork School District takes decisive action to end current contract 

Last month, Voces Unidas requested that the Roaring Fork School District communicate the risks of working with a hostile government to parents of students at Riverview Elementary School, the only RFSD school with a School Resource Officer (SRO) from the Garfield County Sheriff's Office. In a letter to the superintendent, we stated that if the district could not guarantee their vendor (the sheriff’s office) would not target immigrant students and their families, the district should end the contract immediately. 

Given the history of former SROs in the Roaring Fork School District working part-time with federal immigration enforcement agencies and the consequences to families, Voces Unidas was adamant that swift action was necessary. 

Indeed, the Sheriff would not guarantee to the RFSD that immigrant students and their families would not be targeted while at Riverside Elementary School, and we were pleased to learn that the district subsequently ended its contractual relationship for security services as a result. We were further pleased to learn that all other law enforcement agencies providing additional security services to the RFSD have guaranteed they will not target immigrant students and their families while at school. These include the Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs police departments. 

Garfield RE-2 and Garfield 16 School Districts need to take immediate action 

We are now calling on RE-2 and Garfield 16 superintendents to communicate to parents if any of their schools are being staffed by a known hostile vendor that proactively works with federal immigration enforcement agents.

If those school districts cannot guarantee that the Garfield County Sheriff's Office won’t target immigrant students and their families, we call for the immediate termination of all SRO contracts with that office.

All school districts have the discretion to create their own security services department or to meet service demands with third-party vendors, including law enforcement agencies or security firms. However, a student’s constitutional right to a quality education cannot be infringed because of poor and inadequate procurement processes and policies. If districts opt for third-party vendors, it is paramount that they implement rules and policies to protect immigrant students.

While Mesa County and others in western Colorado have passed so-called anti-sanctuary resolutions, only Garfield County inserted racist language falsely claiming that immigrants are responsible for diseases and crime. And it was only in Garfield County that the sheriff inserted himself and publicly declared that he is working proactively with federal immigration enforcement agents.

State law requires all law enforcement departments, including sheriffs offices, to protect and serve everyone in the community, including responding to emergencies or crimes in a school. But hiring an SRO is the decision of the school district. And school districts must similarly ensure that all students are protected, regardless of the vendors they pick. 

The bottom line is that schools need to be a safe place for every student, including immigrant students. 


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