Oakland principal buys staff 'sanctuary' T-shirts for first day of school

- An Oakland principal knows she can't single handedly change the political situation in the country, but she decided in a small way, to create a meaningful symbolic gesture for her community on the first day of school.

Emerson Elementary Principal Heather Palin spent $600 of her own money to buy 20 teachers and staff members blue T-shirts that read: "Oakland Schools are Sanctuary Schools." She bought the shirts from the district's English Language Learner Office, which supported  2,862 "newcomer" students last school year, with the majority of these students arriving from Guatemala, according to district statistics.  The district sells the T-shirts and asks people to use the hashtag #unafraidOUSD while wearing them.

"So much has happened over the summer, in the world, in terms of family separation at the border, and the tragic stabbing of Nia Wilson on BART," Palin said. "I want all of our schools to be sanctuary places for kids and families of all ethnicities and backgrounds."

And so the T-shirts, she thought, would be a "small but beautiful symbol" to show that her school is a safe place. Every school in the district officially adopted the Sanctuary Resolution two years ago, putting into writing that students are safe on campus despite their immigration status. 

Nationwide, about 3.9 million K-12 grade students  – or 7.3 percent of the total population –  have a parent who is undocumented, according to the Pew Research Center. In California, that percentage is highers higher -- 12 percent.  

Palin said her staff was grateful to wear the shirts, including librarian Jennifer Vetter, who proudly posted a picture of herself on Facebook, touting her principal's bold move. No one asked not to wear it, she said.

As for the kids? "There wasn't much reaction," Palin conceded, as most children were busy getting adjusted to sitting in their chairs and meeting new teachers after the summer break. "One boy though came up to me and said, 'What's on your shirt?'"

She said later in the office, she got plenty of emails from parents that read, we're so proud to be part of your community. 

IF YOU'RE INTERESTED: There is an all-day Oakland Unified School District "Sanctuary Kickoff" on Aug. 25 at Metwest High School. 


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