Toolkit for “School as Sanctuary”

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Illustration by Nicole Rifkin


To better understand the sanctuary school movement and consider how its key tenets could manifest in my school or learning community.

Essential questions:

  • What is a sanctuary school?
  • What does it mean to have equal access to educational opportunities? 
  • Why are schools important spaces in the sanctuary movement?
  • How can I make my school or learning community more inclusive of students from immigrant families? 

In “School as Sanctuary” by Cory Collins, readers are introduced to two California school districts—San Leandro Unified School District and Oakland Unified School District—that implemented sanctuary or safe haven policies. These schools are part of a larger sanctuary school movement, defined by Immigrants Rising as “a movement made up of schools, school districts and higher education institutions that call for protections to be put into place that will ensure a safe environment for ALL students, reaffirm their constitutional right of access to education and protect the rights of undocumented immigrants and other vulnerable populations.”

In Collins’ article, district leaders and advocates emphasize the importance of going beyond the label of sanctuary and instituting actionable policies and procedures designed to not only safeguard undocumented students or family members but to include them as stakeholders and valued members of the school community. 

As San Leandro Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Dr. Sonal Patel says in the article, no school or district should directly mimic another school or district’s resolution. Instead, policies should be tailored to the needs of the community and subject to their feedback. “Get community voice,” Patel says. 

But there are best practices educators can learn from. This toolkit provides a compilation of resources that will help educators better understand the sanctuary school movement, the rights of undocumented and immigrant students, and the steps schools can take to uphold those rights and uplift immigrant communities.

Understanding the Sanctuary School & Safe Zone Movement: A Quick Guide for Educators

This guide from Immigrants Rising explains the sanctuary school and safe zone movements, including legal context, key tenets of the movements, steps for getting started, guidelines for implementation, sample resolutions and more. 

Immigrant and Refugee Children: A Guide for Educators and School Support Staff

This 2016 report from the American Federation of Teachers, United We Dream, National Immigration Law Center and First Focus includes “Know Your Rights” information and cards, steps for protecting undocumented students and a list of legal aid organizations that can help detained undocumented youth find representation. 

Model Campus Safe Zones Resolution Language (K-12)

These sample resolutions from the National Immigration Law Center offer school leaders and educators a framework from which to customize resolutions that fit their communities’ needs.

Lifting the Lamp Beside the Schoolhouse Door: A Legal Guide to Serving Undocumented Students in Public Schools

This 2017 report from the National School Boards Association provides legal guidance on undocumented students’ rights, schools’ rights to protect those students from immigration enforcement, and best practices for implementing policies and practices to protect these students.

Ensuring Every Undocumented Student Succeeds: A Report on Access to Public Education for Undocumented Children

This 2016 report from the Georgetown Law Human Rights Institute Fact-Finding Project details the barriers undocumented students commonly face in attempting to access education. The report also details the legal and legislative precedent for guaranteeing all children a right to free, public education, and it offers recommendations for upholding those laws while dismantling common barriers.

This Is Not a Drill 

This 2018 resource from Teaching Tolerance names five steps every educator in the United States can take—along with extra recommendations for teachers serving communities with many undocumented families—to support some of our most vulnerable students.

COVID-19 Resources for Undocumented Immigrants

This crowdsourced Google spreadsheet includes a list of nationwide and state-specific resources providing assistance to undocumented people during the pandemic. 

Building Welcoming Schools: A Guide for K-12 Educators and After-School Providers

This toolkit from Welcoming America offers K-12 activities designed to promote the welcoming of refugee and immigrant students and their families. 

Welcoming LGBTQ Youth

With more than 190,000 Latinx LGBTQ undocumented people in the United States, this guide from Unidos US can help educators better understand and affirm the experiences and cultures of Latinx LGBTQ youth.

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