Immigrant students could be enrolled in DC public schools

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About 40 migrant children could enroll in DC public schools, the city’s principal said Wednesday after an announcement by the mayor that school-age children arriving on buses from the southern border will be able to attend classes in the fall.

“We will make sure students have access to the services they need, and if they live in a certain area, we will make sure they have access to their neighborhood school,” School Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee said in a news conference. Public school districts cannot disqualify students from enrollment based on their citizenship or immigrant status.

He added DCPS has a “strong welcome center” that will support migrant families who decide to enroll in the school system. According to data from the DC Office of the State Superintendent of Education, the district has an enrollment of more than 49,000 students, about 15 percent of whom are English learners.

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More than 7,000 migrants from countries including Venezuela and Nicaragua have arrived in the country’s capital since April, when Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) began voluntarily sending them on buses to criticize the Biden administration‘s border security policies. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) launched a similar initiative in May.

DC Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said the busesarriving in town unannounced “is a politically motivated stunt.” Migrants, in many cases fleeing death threats or other dangers in their home countries, are seeking asylum in the United States.

Local aid groups have stepped in to take in the new migrants, housing many in makeshift shelters and hotels. This month, DC Attorney General Karl A. Racine, who is independently elected by the mayor and controls his office’s spending, announced a $150,000 grant program for nonprofits that help migrants.

But many of these groups are strained. With some migrants sleeping outside Union Station and in parking lots, Bowser has described the situation as a humanitarian crisis.

This week, for the second time, the Defense Department turned down their request for help from the National Guard to contain the influx of migrants. “We are struggling with a broken immigration system in our country, and we know that cities alone cannot fix it,” she kept writing Twitter.

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Mariel Vallano, an English teacher at a DC middle school who helps migrant families through a mutual aid network, said the children have not yet been officially enrolled. Matriculation papers have been distributed to families, but none of them are ready, she added.

Staff from the language acquisition department for the school system plan to help families complete paperwork on Thursday, and will begin collecting the forms at that time.

Madhvi Bahl, an organizer with the Migrant Solidarity Mutual Aid Network and Sanctuary DMV, said getting students to enroll in the school had been a struggle up to this point. Migrants living in hotels don’t receive the same services from the DC Department of Human Services as other people without accommodation in the city, Bahl added.

“They don’t give them case managers. It doesn’t give them any of the other things you would need to help them enroll,” Bahl said. Going forward, she added, the school district must help children adjust to classroom life. “One of the most important things, of course, is making sure they have access to voice services.”

Ferebee said he’s confident the school system has the resources to help new migrant children settle into classrooms, including Spanish-speaking teachers and staff who can help families with needs like housing.

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