YES Students and MTEA Members Collaborate to Win Sanctuary District in Milwaukee

DSC03623 copy

On March 30, the students of Youth Empowered in the Struggle in Milwaukee, along with a group of MTEA educators, successfully organized and won a Sanctuary District resolution for Milwaukee Public Schools. The resolution was passed unanimously by the Milwaukee school board and proved a major organizing victory. But our work is far from over. Students and educators are now employing similar tactics in Sheboygan and Racine, Wisconsin where they hope to win the same policy for students there.

How did YES students, allied with MTEA members, win in Milwaukee? YES students and supportive MTEA educators formed an Education Task Force Committee to help spur success. The committee met weekly to collaborate and develop petition language as well as a plan to win support. MTEA leadership also met with select school board members to develop resolution language that protected students and engaged district staff in the policy. The Education Task Force of students and MTEA members backed that work up by composing the petition below to help build support for the resolution and to mobilize other students and educators to action.


Education Task Force Committee members circulated the petition before and after school to parents, educators, and community members to build a list of supporters. YES students attended MTEA’s March Representative Assembly meeting to share personal stories with union leaders on why the resolution was important. Leaders immediately passed a resolution supporting the work of the committee with a pledge of greater commitment to helping make it happen.

YES students and members of the Education Task Force speak to the MTEA Representative Assembly to build support for the Sanctuary District resolution (Photo: Joe Brusky).

YES students reached out to each school board member and invited him or her to Voces de la Frontera, where the students shared stories of what life was like for undocumented students in school.

YES students invited School Board President Mark Sain and Director Carol Voss to hear their personal stories. After meeting with the students they took this group photo (Photo: YES).

The students used their newly forged connections with MTEA members to attend school staff meetings at select schools, where they again shared powerful and moving testimonials with staff to build wider support.

YES students attended a morning staff meeting at Wedgewood Park School to share personal stories and build support for a Sanctuary District policy (Photo: Joe Brusky).


The student and teacher Task Force Committee’s collaboration produced nearly 2,000 signatures in support of the policy. The committee scheduled an “art build” the weekend before the final school board meeting to paint a banner and screen print signs in preparation for a short rally before the board meeting. They also used the opportunity to phone bank signers of the petition to ensure a packed room for the vote, which is exactly what happened.

The Education Task Force held an Art Build and phone bank to drive supporters to the March 30 rally and school board meeting (Photo: Joe Brusky).



Education Task Force Paints Sanctuary District Banner from MTEA Union on Vimeo.

The March 30th school board meeting was full to capacity and an additional auxiliary room was opened to handle the swelling attendance. A yes vote was unanimously reached on the resolution.

The entire MPS School Board auditorium was full and an additional room was opened up for those attending in support of the resolution (Photo: Joe Brusky).

MTEA member, Education Task Force member, and South Division teacher Berta Barillas testifies in support of a Sanctuary District (Photo: Joe Brusky).

YES students are now utilizing the same template and plan in Sheboygan and Racine, where they hope to have similar success. Racine Horlick High School junior and YES member, Fernanda Jimenez was present for the March 30th Milwaukee board meeting and is now organizing in Racine:

I went to go see that board meeting where they passed the resolution. It felt loving to be there. All the district members were really there for their students and students felt joyful to be part of that district. That’s what we want to feel here.

YES students in Racine attend a school board meeting to register support for a Sanctuary District policy (Photo: Ricardo Torres).

The Education Task Force Committee crafted the blueprint to bring this policy to other districts around the state and country and they hope their efforts will be duplicated elsewhere.


Union educators are taking an active role in supporting students working towards a safe space in their schools. The YES students in Wisconsin are taking the initiative to make sure their fellow classmates are given a safe space to learn. It is imperative for educators to step up and help make sure their voices are heard. We owe it to our students to amplify their voices and guarantee their needs are met.


NEA has developed sample resolution and district policy that can be used as a template or guidance for local school districts to create their own Safe Zones resolutions.



Thanks to the following MTEA members for their efforts on the Education Task Force:


Jeanette Arellano (South Division High School)

Berta Barillas (South Division High School) – Video testimony is here.

Joe Brusky (MTEA released organizer)

John Fleissner (Hamilton High School)

Cynthia Frankowiak (Vieau Elementary)

Kenicia McKinney (Parkside School of the Arts) – Video testimony is here.

Julie Meyer (Wedgewood Park)

Henry Leonard (Bethune Academy) – Video testimony is here.

Monica Pallo (Greenfield Bilingual)

Yesenia Saavedra (Wedgewood Park)