NYC public schools bracing for record influx of new migrant students: city officials

LEONARDO MUNOZ/AFP/Getty Images North America/TNS

NEW YORK — Local public schools are preparing for a record number of migrant students — many of whom do not speak English and faced traumatic experiences in their home countries and on their journeys to the United States — when classes resume next week.

Roughly 19,000 newly arrived children in need of language and mental health services, including 500 students who arrived over the summer, have enrolled so far in city schools. The number could be an undercount, as most shelter-based education staff work 10-month schedules that exclude the summer.

Last year, an estimated 1,400 asylum-seeking kids showed up for the first day of school. The city Education Department does not ask families their immigration status, and relies on the number of new students in temporary housing enrolling since last summer as a proxy.

“We’re going to do everything that we possibly can do to provide as great a level of support as we can,” city Schools Chancellor David Banks said Wednesday at a briefing on migrants.

School placements are taking a week to process, with the first day of classes about the same time away. Some employees having the summer off poses a challenge to that abbreviated time frame.

“That is something that we have to continue to solve for,” said Melissa Aviles-Ramos, the chancellor’s chief of staff, who leads the department’s work related to asylum seekers. “So one of the things that we’re working on right now is paying overtime ... who can support with enrolling students at the different Welcome Centers or at shelters and other locations.”

“We are very confident that the students will be enrolled and schools will be ready by September 7,” she said.

It remains to be seen whether the public school system can recruit enough bilingual teachers and other staff, such as Spanish-speaking social workers, to meet a rapidly growing population of migrant students.

When school reopens, the city will have roughly 3,400 teachers licensed to teach English as a new language and 1,700 certified bilingual teachers in Spanish on payroll, officials said.

Those staffing levels are unlikely to move the needle for administrators who were already struggling to meet new language needs. Last fall, there were 3,606 English as a second language teachers and 1,640 Spanish bilingual teachers, according to an analysis by the Independent Budget Office.

At the time, fewer than half of schools with at least a handful of migrant students on their registers had one or more bilingual teachers of any language, the report showed.

Banks teased that plans to ramp up recruitment are underway, but not ready to be announced.

For the first time this year, the city is sending an additional $90 million through its primary education funding formula to schools that enroll students in temporary housing, including migrants, and high concentrations of children in poverty or learning English. Banks said the department will coordinate with principals and superintendents as the year progresses and disburse more funds if needed.

“This (is) part of the challenge that we have: Students are continuing to come,” said Banks. “If we use last year as a baseline, we’re talking about thousands more young people, but I could not give you more of an estimate than that.”