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After arrival of migrant children upstate, area school district prepares for challenges

Alexander Zúñiga and Vanesa Encarnación arrived in the U.S. July 17, telling WAMC they left their children behind in Ecuador.
Dave Lucas
Super8 guests Alexander Zúñiga and Vanesa Encarnación arrived in the U.S. July 17, telling WAMC they left their children behind in Ecuador.

With the arrival of migrant children in Rotterdam, the Mohonasen School District is gearing up to serve their educational needs.

Buses that brought migrants from New York City to the Super8 Motel last month were among the first carrying families with school-age children. As Rotterdam town and Schenectady County officials scrambled to react and accommodate additional asylum seekers, Shannon Shine, the superintendent of the 2,800 student-strong Mohonasen district was waiting for numbers to help determine the impact of enrolling a batch of new students. Those numbers came through this week.

"The snapshot, if you will, as of Monday, is 71 students," Shine said. "We have not administered there's something called the NYSESLAT, it's basically an English language proficiency assessment that you give non-native American-speaking, students when they come in, we haven't had a chance to administer those yet. But just going on their ages alone, and kind of guessing, flash projecting what grade level with these students began, we'd have around 24 students at our primary school that's grades K through 2. Twenty-one students at our elementary, that's grades three through 5. Thirteen students at our middle school, Draper, that's grades 6 through 8, and another 13 students at the high school level."

Schenectady County Manager Rory Fluman shared his thoughts on the situation during a County Legislature meeting on Monday.

"We had a good meeting with public health, on-the-ground DocGo staff about immunizations and tuberculosis testing," said Fluman. 'Hopefully we're starting those tasks this week. The school district has made some advances with meetings with DocGo. Information hopefully is going to be exchanged very shortly. But again, the school district is really, those actions and those kids being enrolled is state law for school districts to take care of. It's really not anything that the county government is responsible for."

Shine says the tentative plan is to reach out to the families in writing using translated fliers welcoming the newcomers, offering enrollment and inviting them to visit and tour the schools.

"Looks like the primary languages spoken, about 65 of the children speak Spanish, several speak Chinese, a couple speak English," Shine said. "And then there's one that I don't really have, I think it's Haitian Creole. But that remains to be further defined."

In addition to helping newly arrived families place their children in school, Shine says the district is also looking to hire ESL teachers and arrange transportation to and from school along with other basic services.

Shine concedes additional teachers and translators are not covered in the school budget.

"How are we going to pay for this? You know, a couple of weeks ago, I had our assistant superintendent for business reach out to state aid planning through Questar III BOCES. And what we're talking about is some funding that would lag one year as part of the Foundation Aid formula," Shine said. "But again, that's contingent upon, you know, having students enrolled by early October or there's something called B.E.D.S. And it's when you take a snapshot of your population, and then some of that data feeds into the Foundation Aid formula. There's also allowances made for you know, migrant children or homeless, which would be these children would qualify as homeless under the McKinney-Vento Act. But there's also talk about Title Three funds."

Shine says there's a base assumption that as families move out of the Super8, DocGo will probably try to fill those slots because they've pre-paid for the entire hotel.

A spokesperson for the New York State Education Department says the agency will have more information on the migrant students next week. They are meeting with New York City and state officials on Monday to discuss the influx of migrant students and how to best assist local school districts to ensure the students have the supports they need to have access to an equitable, quality education.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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