New Westminster schools are one step closer to becoming sanctuaries for children of families with precarious immigration status, who fear enrolling their children in schools will risk their security.

On Tuesday night, the education policy committee of the New Westminster Board of Education recommended approval of a sanctuary schools policy to go forward for a vote on Feb. 28. 

According to the British Columbia School Act, all school age residents can attend a school in their district. But, school board vice-chair, Mark Gifford says some families have held their children back from school for months or even years out of fear of losing their children or being forced out of the country.

"It's a scary experience for folks new to a country or who've been here for some time, and held off from engaging with big systems. They seem scary sometimes, and kind of involve too much risk for folks to approach," said Gifford.

Precarious immigration status refers to less than full legal status, and can include refugee applicants, undocumented entrants, and temporary workers.

Two key principles 

The proposed sanctuary policy focuses on two key principles: access to all, and access without fear.

Access to all would ensure that all children who are residents of New Westminster are given equitable access to education, regardless of their immigrant status. 

Access without fear focuses on making schools safe zones, where all children and families can expect the school and its staff will protect students' personal information and not share it with any immigration authorities. 

The sanctuary policy is the result of a year of consultation with community stakeholders, like Sanctuary Health, a community group who seeks to ensure that all people have access to essential services regardless of immigration status. 

"I'm really excited about this policy moving forward, and I think that this means that children and families who were previously afraid or worried that they weren't going to be able to access schools will know that the New Westminster school district stands behind them and is going to support them in being a part of the community and being a part of the school system," said Tasha Nijjar with Sanctuary Health.

Gifford says that if the policy is approved the school board will adopt the changes in time for the 2017 school year.