It is time to think of schools. As the start of school nears, it’s difficult for most districts to prepare for a possible influx of immigrant children because of so much uncertainty as to where they will end up, officials said. North Texas schools are unlikely to see as many as initially expected. That is partly because a proposal to house nearly 2,000 in Dallas County was scrapped and partly because many children moving out of temporary immigration shelters are being resettled with family members across the country.
David Anderson, general counsel for the Texas Education Agency, recently told legislators that school officials don’t know how many children are in federal custody or how many will be released to sponsors or guardians in Texas, making those students eligible to attend public school. “We just don’t know those numbers,” he said. “We will either be surprised or not.” About 63,000 unaccompanied immigrant children have fled to the United States – mostly through Texas – since Oct. 1. A majority have come from Central America.
Catholic Charities of Dallas estimates that about 4,000 children have settled in North Texas this year. Anderson noted that federal constraints discourage school districts from asking students their immigration status because doing so could be considered illegal. On Tuesday, the TEA passed along to Texas school districts federal guidance about dealing with immigrant children, as well as potential resources. Federal officials reminded school officials in May that practices that “chill or discourage” children from enrolling based on their immigration status are against federal law requiring districts to provide all children with equal access to education. So school districts that are likely to enroll such students are doing what they can to be ready to serve such students just in case.
The Fort Worth and Dallas districts already have refugee services in place because they annually serve hundreds of such children. Fort Worth officials said they are in constant communication with agencies that provide services to the unaccompanied children, such as Catholic Charities, to monitor where the kids are resettled. So far, most going through those programs are moving to other parts of the country, with only a handful enrolling in Fort Worth, said Michael Steinert, executive director of student support services. “It’s not going to be this huge influx that many were thinking initially when the news of this started,” he said. “But ultimately, we don’t know how many.”
The Dallas school district hasn’t seen a noticeable increase in immigrant children either, said spokesman Andre Riley. But the district’s Refugee Intake Center is prepared to help such students, connecting them to services for tutoring, clothing and more. “We’re going to educate any student that comes through our doors,” Riley said. “We already have strong systems in place by virtue of being a big urban district and located where we are.” Anderson told legislators that smaller districts could be hit hardest because they don’t have such infrastructure in place.
If they suddenly see such students arriving, districts will have to work fast to hire some of the most difficult staffers to find – bilingual teachers and counselors. Anderson said Texas could absorb most of the educational costs for 25,000 to 27,000 such students with the current appropriations in the state budget. And some federal dollars might arrive through programs for helping poor or homeless children. But it would probably take time for districts to get reimbursed, he said.
NORTH TEXAS SCHOOL DISTRICTS DON’T EXPECT BIG IMPACT FROM IMMIGRANT CHILDREN