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San Benito High School District declares itself a 'Safe Haven'

The resolution aims to ease fears among immigrant students and their families.

San Benito High School District board members unanimously approved a resolution on Feb. 14 to declare the school a “Safe Haven School District." The resolution states that the district will focus on promoting and elevating tolerance, inclusiveness and kindness for all students “regardless of their immigration status, ethnicity race religion, sexual orientation, ability, sex and gender identity, socio-economic status or beliefs.”

The resolution is also aimed at easing fears among students and their families that feel they may be targeted under the immigration policies of the Donald Trump administration.

Interim Superintendent Shawn Tennenbaum introduced the agenda item saying, “It has been a very important topic in the state of California. This is a resolution that we see across the state. We see school districts adopting at this particular moment.”

In December, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson encouraged schools throughout California to become “safe havens.”

“Unfortunately, since the presidential election, reports of bullying, harassment, and intimidation of K-12 students based on immigration status, religious, or ethnic identification are on the rise,” he said in a letter distributed to educators.

Tennenbaum added, "looking at the analysis of the federal funds that the district receives and working with our attorney group, we feel that there are strength in numbers because we don’t know what could happen potentially out of Washington, D.C. with federal funds, but we do know that we have an obligation and we feel very strongly to protect all of our students.”

During the public comment portion of the discussion, community member Debbie Simmons said she feels schools are a sanctuary for students. “It’s one of the few places that our community can come and you don't have to worry about your political affiliation, religion, the core focus is for education purposes,” she said. “I think you have a lot of policies in place that protect a lot of the school, the students that are here, the staff. The only thing that I didn’t see protected is students, staff and families' political affiliation and I say that because I never felt more fearful for my daughter,” she said, claiming there are times when teachers have tried to sway students' political beliefs.

She went on to say that while she did not want to come off as intolerant, she wanted the board to stay true to its mission. 

“If you were to adopt this resolution, I would ask that you give it a cooling-off period between the election. I think there’s a lot of anxiety that’s revolved around the rhetoric of the political process,” she said.

Veronica Lezama of San Benito County LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens), said, “Over the last 30 years, San Benito LULAC has worked with a lot of young people in the community and have heard first hand some of the fears they have experienced as a result of fear of attending school. The wonderful thing about this resolution is that it supports all students. I did see in the resolution that there’s a recommendation to implement a Day of Understanding. I think that is so wonderful because it could be all-inclusive. It’s not targeted to a specific demographic. I really encourage the high school to include that in your annual calendar. LULAC would be happy to support something like that and work in partnership.”

Former board member Ray Rodriguez said he disagreed with Simmons' “cooling-off period” adding, “I’m afraid we’ve gone too long. A lot of things are rolling and as an educational institution I would say we’re in crisis.This resolution, more than anything else, I believe, is a statement from the current board as it sits and the current administration on how you feel about this topic. It doesn’t change any policy, it clarifies its policy; it clarifies the intents of the board."

The high school district's migrant program regional representative, Julio Salazar, said, “For us, it’s very important, because our goal is for our kids to go to school and just focus on school. If we work together I think we make our community safe. Everyone here has a different point of view, but at the end, everybody has got to be on the same page to support the kids.”

During discussion, Trustee John Corrigan said, “the election didn't go the way people wanted it to, but to me this paragraph is more rhetoric. It doesn't do anything to bring that down and it doesn’t take any step towards calming the situation,” he said referring to a section in the resolution that touched on the outcome of the election.  

He continued by asking fellow board members what would happen if the 2011 policy stated in the resolution regarding ICE (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) not conducting immigration enforcement activity at any sensitive location was to change and if going against the federal government was something the board was prepared to do. “I like the concept, but I don’t know that this is the way to do it,” Corrigan said.

Trustee Patty Nehme spoke about her personal experience as a teacher and having students express their fear about attending school. She said if this resolution could provide peace of mind to her students and their families, then she was in support of it.

Trustee Juan Robledo, said, “This resolution isn’t violating any laws. It doesn't create any new laws.” He added that he didn’t agree that there needed to be a cooling-off period. “A cool-off period won’t happen for the next four years,” he said.

PSAT Results Report

In other board meeting news, Principal Adrian Ramirez presented the PSAT results report for the 2015-2016 school year. 

The PSAT 8&9 is a test that establishes a baseline measurement for students entering high school while the PSAT/NMSQT provides entrance to the National Merit Scholarship program and measures readiness for college.

In 2015, the board voted to spend $10,000 for students in the 10th grade to take the PSAT/NMSQT and in 2016 the school spent $17,000 for students to take the PSAT/NMQST and PSAT 8&9. 

Earlier this fall, ninth graders were given the opportunity to take the PSAT 8&9 for the first time. 

"It gives us an indicator of where our students should be starting with us. It’s also designed to gives us a baseline measurement of where they are compared to where they should be,” said Principal Adrian Ramirez. 

Ninth-grade test participation at SBHS was at 88 percent versus the national average of 48 percent and the state average of 32 percent.

SBHS benchmark scores were lower (20 percent) than the national (39 percent) and the state (25 percent) numbers.

Ramirez attributed this to the fact that the district has all students in their respective grades taking the test, including SPED (Special Education) students and ELL (English Language Learners). 

The test is free for students in the ninth and 10th grades. Students in the 11th grade are also given the opportunity to take the test for a discounted price.

P.E. Recommendation 

The board also voted to change the P.E. requirement from freshman and sophomore year to a two-year P.E. requirement in which a student has to pass the physical fitness test but would be allowed to forgo the class their sophomore year. Additionally, no waiver would be permitted for students participating in other activities such as athletics or band.

As reported previously in BenitoLink, the requirement would have the potential to cause a bottleneck in a students' schedule during their sophomore year. Students who needed support classes were not able to get them because the requirement would not allow for an elective course. 

“P.E is not what’s causing it but its a piece in order to give our students the flexibility to take the courses that they would need to make the demands of the grad requirements,” said Ramirez.

Formal Complaint Submitted

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Ray Rodriguez and his wife, Monica, submitted a formal complaint regarding the school charging students for athletic uniforms —specifically, those for track and field athletes. 

“Two years ago, I brought it to the board's attention that the students were required to buy their track uniforms. Last year, I came to the board to let you know that once again this happened,” Monica Rodriguez said. “San Benito High School and its district cannot sell athletic competition uniforms to its athletic teams.”

Ray Rodriguez said it would cost more than $100 for a student to outfit themselves with the basic necessities and that the Supreme Court ruled that extracurricular activities were an integral part of the education system. He said that what the district is doing is “illegal.

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Laura Romero (Laura Romero)

Laura Romero is a general assignment reporter for BenitoLink, covering topics like education and city government. Formerly, she worked as an assistant account executive at Pembroke PR in San Francisco, where she assisted with press outreach, event coordination, and social media planning. Her PR skills will be put to use as she helps implement social media strategies and develops an online giving campaign.


Submitted by (Rob) on

"SBHS benchmark scores were lower (20 percent) than the national (39 percent) and the state (25 percent) numbers."

"Ramirez attributed this to the fact that the district has all students in their respected grades taking the test, including SPED (Special Education) students and ELL (English Language Learners). "

So the rest of the state and nation did not test SPED and ELL? Why? Why did we, if no one else did?

What would serve San Benito County better would for SBHS board to then publish its results without SPED and ELL so that we can compare ourselves to the rest of the state and nation. We need to know how we are doing.

Story:  "SBHS benchmark scores were lower (20 percent) than the national (39 percent) and the state (25 percent) numbers. Ramirez attributed this to the fact that the district has all students in their respected grades taking the test, including SPED (Special Education) students and ELL (English Language Learners)."

It seems logical to me that if you are going to spend $27,000 for standardized testing, a concept I support, you would set up the scoring so the results can be used as a meaningful baseline and to compare with the rest of the state.  How could we fail to do that?

There are three distinct populations being tested, general students, SPED (Special Education) students and ELL (English Language Learners).  A blended score is pretty useless as either a baseline or as a comparative measure.

If possible (if the results are identifiable) they need to go back and separate the results by group and score each group.  Once we know the nose count and score of each group we can blend the scores ourselves if needed, although the use of a blended score is severely limited on a practical basis.

Come on folks, you should do a lot better in setting up a testing regimen.

Marty Richman

Ok, how did that happen?  When I posted there were no comments, but after I posted an "earlier" - almost identical - comment came in.  Electronic echo or the ghost in the machine, who knows?  Anyway. we both had the same idea.

Marty Richman

fjperez's picture
Submitted by Frank Pérez (fjperez) on

As part of transition activity yesterday, I had each of my three classes read this article and then answer the question, "Do you agree with the school board's decision to declare SBHSD a "Safe Haven? Explain why or why not."

Before the discussion began, many students admitted that they had no knowledge of the resolution. They weren't alone. I, too, was unaware of board's decision, though I had heard that creating a "Safe Haven" (I wasn't exactly sure what that meant) was something the trustees were considering.

I didn't take an official poll, but overwhelming my students supported the resolution.

Proponents argued that it reassures all students that our campus is safe and welcoming, especially at at time of heightened anxiety for some of their classmates. A sophomore explained that the district should have done this "a lot sooner," recalling a time when her sibling, a graduate of SBHS, was fearful of "coming out" as a member of the LGBTQ community while attending the school.

Those who opposed SBHSD's new "Safe Haven" status argued that such designation echoes of redundancy. Why would the board, they said, make a point of publicly stating something it's already entrusted to do. A senior warned that the school could bring unwanted attention to itself, remarking that ICE could focus its efforts on our campus now that the district has resolved itself not to cooperate with federal agents.

One who disagreed with the resolution stated that it didn't go far enough. "It should also include students with mental illnesses," the student said.

The resolution can be read in its entirety (in both English and Spanish) on the school's website.

Submitted by (Rob Bernosky) on

I know that it is risky to post on the subject, but as an elected individual I suppose I should because of that fact. In the same article, selected academic results were reported. While one has to read in between the lines, what it indicates is we are not doing so well. Instead of the school board focusing on what it's mission is, it spent time on the sanctuary issue. The problem with that is "...there is no further legal protection for residents/students as the result of this status." Said differently, the school board spent time on this issue to be politically correct, but it does not do anything in reality. Their time would have been much better spent drilling down on the academic results of the school and coming up with solutions to problems they are having in that area.

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