A New Challenge

For unaccompanied minors, the school year begins with uncertainty

PHOTO: Tasked Angel

Claire Sylvan first saw hints about how her New York City schools were about to change at a school more than 3,000 miles away.

Late last school year, she saw an uptick of unaccompanied minors enrolling at one of the west-coast schools in her Internationals Network for Public Schools. Then she began to see a higher number than usual in New York, where 15 of her network’s schools focus on serving immigrant students.

Of the flood of young migrants fleeing gang violence and extreme poverty in Central America — almost 40,000 came across the Mexican border between January and July, according to the Office of Refugee Settlement — more than 1,300 have ended up in New York City. As they wait for deportation hearings, the students, many with gaps in their formal education and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, are presenting a significant new challenge for city schools.

“They are going to be concentrated there, at schools,” Sylvan said, noting that the city is now tasked with figuring out how to provide those students with legal services, counseling, help learning English, and in some cases, literacy in any language. “How are you going to use the school as a hub for the services they are going to need?”

Brooklyn and the Bronx have received 362 and 347 students, respectively, and Manhattan has received 54 students. Queens has gotten the lion’s share of the children, with 578.

All have arrived in the U.S. alone or with other minors, and have been placed with family members, sponsors, or other care in the city. (Children as young as five years old have traveled with a one-year-old sibling, said one advocate with the New York Immigration Coalition. “It’s astounding.”)

The needs of many of these students are acute. At Flushing International High School in Queens, the staff began to prepare for the newest influx with a professional development session last week that covered how to identify symptoms of post-traumatic stress.

“We talked about the different ways trauma can show up in the classroom,” said Tania Romero, a social worker at Flushing, a school with experience enrolling unaccompanied minors, including those from conflict zones in Bosnia and parts of Africa. Staff members are on the lookout for students who might be quiet and depressed, or those who might act out with violence.

Some students may have experienced sexual trauma on their journey across the border, or may have spent weeks in the desert without much food or water, Romero said. Now, they also face uncertainty about whether they can stay in the U.S. or will be sent back to the place they fled.

But staff members are focused on understanding the symptoms of that trauma and some of what is happening in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. “Once you have that better understanding, you are more equipped to help those students,” Romero said.

In some ways, the city school system is well positioned to accommodate these students. About 14 percent of city students are English language learners, and nearly half of those were born outside the U.S.

Still, the new wave presents a bureaucratic challenge, since many will have no educational  records, said Margie McHugh, director of the National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy at the Migration Policy Institute.

And it’s still unclear how well districts and teachers nationwide will be able to meet the needs of these students, whose literacy levels — and socio-emotional needs — should be assessed when they enter their schools.

“Obviously, there’s a lot of rough edges to this right now,” she said.

The city has signaled that it is taking some steps to meet those needs. The newly appointed head of the office of English language learners, Milady Baez, will focus in part on monitoring the needs of these minors, the department said in a statement. The education department is also part of an interagency task force looking at their needs, though city officials from the mayor’s office and the education department declined to say what that group was working on. Sylvan also said she had spoken with Chancellor Carmen Fariña about sharing ideas from the Internationals network with the rest of the department.

Meanwhile, schools are continuing to see an influx of these high-need students.

“At a network level, we are certain we have well over 150 kids,” said Sylvan, citing a figure that includes children who arrived toward the end of last school year. “It goes up daily.”

Emma Sokoloff-Rubin contributed reporting.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.