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Safe Havens Initiative

California Department of Education, Safe Haven School District LogoSafe Havens are local educational agencies (LEAs), which include school districts, county offices of education, and direct-funded charter schools that have committed themselves to reassuring students, parents and educators that everyone is welcome on school sites, regardless of immigration status. Safe Havens also provide helpful resources, such as information about immigration laws, and ways to be prepared in case a student or family member is deported.

Public Charge

On August 14, 2019, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security amended federal regulations known as the “public charge rule.” The term “public charge” is used in immigration law to refer to a person who is primarily dependent on the government for support. The changes to the existing rule, effective October 15, 2019, will make it more difficult to apply for permanent residency or earn a visa if an applicant is dependent on government aid such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), housing assistance, and Medicaid.

Public education is not a public benefit as defined by the rule. Attending school will not impact a child’s or family member’s immigration status. K-12 school nutrition programs are also not impacted by the public charge rule. Local Education Agencies should continue to encourage families to complete meal application and alternative meal forms for free and reduced priced meals.

Public Charge Letters and Resources

Information regarding school nutrition programs eligibility and the community eligibility provision is available on the California’s Department of Education’s (CDE's) School Eligibility web page.

California is developing a clearinghouse of resources about the changes to the public charge rule including information regarding who is exempt from the rule and where to access immigration advice. These resources are available on the California Immigrant Guide's Public Charge web page External link opens in new window or tab..

AB 699 Implementation

Assembly Bill (AB) 699 (2017) requires all California public schools to provide protections for students, regardless of immigration status, and extend specific support to immigrant students and their families. AB 699 External link opens in new window or tab. requires that schools adopt supportive practices in response to heightened immigration enforcement, including updated staff training, curriculum development, and the following:

  • Implement measures to prevent students from being discriminated against or bullied based on their immigration status.
  • Ensure schools are teaching students about the harm of bullying students based on immigration status.
  • Refrain from the unnecessary collection of immigration status information from students or families.
  • Report police enforcement of immigration laws to school boards.
  • Ensure schools are following a family’s designated emergency plan.
Inform parents about their children’s right to a free public education and about policies to resist assistance with immigration enforcement at schools.

Beyond Safe Havens Conference

State Superintendent Tom Torlakson and the CDE hosted a "Beyond Safe Havens" conference on Friday, September 22, 2017, at CDE headquarters. A notable group of experts, including Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, shared on this important topic.

Today’s politically perilous environment makes it especially important to maintain welcoming and supportive schools that provide a Safe Haven to all California students and their families, including the 300,000 undocumented students and one million with an undocumented parent. 

Besides creating a safe environment, educators need to make sure that students who could be harmed by deportation, either themselves or by having a parent or other family member deported, continue to thrive and succeed. This work furthers an important priority of California’s landmark Local Control Funding Formula: School Climate. 

Educators, parents, and members of the public are invited to watch a recording of the session.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the purpose behind being a Safe Haven district?

Fears, anxiety, uncertainty have been widely reported in California schools because of the current federal administration vowing to increase deportations of undocumented immigrants.

California has an estimated 300,000 students who are undocumented as well as about one million students who live with a parent or guardian who are undocumented. Superintendent Torlakson is encouraging districts to pass these resolutions to lessen fears and uncertainty surrounding immigration activities and directives issued by a new federal administration in Washington, D.C.

Districts and county offices are encouraged to make powerful and reassuring statements to their students and families and to provide accurate information about relevant laws.

It is important that parents and guardians feel safe on their school campuses so they will fully participate their school communities. Engaged parents play a key role in helping students succeed on their way to 21st century careers and college.

How many Safe Haven school districts are there in California?

As of September 2017, 118 school districts and county offices of education have declared themselves Safe Havens. These schools and districts serve more than 2.7 million students and include large and small districts, urban and rural districts and represent a wide variety of geographic regions—stretching from north to south, coastal to inland, and mountain to desert communities. There are likely to be more districts that have passed similar resolutions, but have not used the term Safe Haven.

What are the laws protecting schools and students with regard to student records and immigration status?

There are several legal protections in place, including:

  • The 1984 Supreme Court decision Plyler v. Doe which requires schools to enroll all eligible children regardless of their citizenship or immigration status.
  • State and federal laws prohibit educational agencies from disclosing personally identifiable student information to law enforcement, without the consent of a parent or guardian, a court order or lawful subpoena, or in the case of a health emergency. 
  • Districts must verify a student’s age and residency, but have flexibility in what documents or supporting papers they use. They do not have to use documents pertaining to immigration status.
  • To determine age, for example, LEAs can rely on a statement from a local registrar, baptismal records, or an affidavit from a parent guardian or custodian.
  • To determine residency, an LEA can rely on property tax receipts, pay stubs, or correspondence from a government agency.
What other advice or support can the CDE provide schools and districts?

Since LEAs have wide discretion in what records they use, Superintendent Torlakson strongly recommends that they do not collect or maintain documents related to immigration status.

Superintendent Torlakson and the California Department of Education will continue to provide LEAs with information, updates, and support as indicated in the Public Schools Remain Safe Havens for California’s Students letter he sent to all school, district, and county office administrators on December 21, 2016. It is also available in Spanish below.


Immigration Status of Students

American Federation of Teachers: Protecting Our Students External link opens in new window or tab.

News Releases

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson Asks Federal Authorities to Clarify Policy on Immigration Actions Near Schools (Dated 09-Mar-2017)

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Urges “Safe Haven” Designation for California’s 10,500 Public Schools (Dated 21-Dec-2016)

Superintendent Letters

Public Schools Remain Safe Havens for California’s Students (Dated 21-Dec-2016)

Public Schools Remain Safe Havens for California’s Students - En Espanol (Dated 21-Dec-2016)

Questions:   Communications | | 916-319-0818
Last Reviewed: Tuesday, August 10, 2021
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