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Migrant parents in NYC are struggling to enroll kids in school

The city is still scrambling to fund basic social services for the thousands of migrants arriving weekly.
Migrant parents in NYC are struggling to enroll kids in school
Posted at 8:53 PM, Jun 27, 2023

Migrants are struggling to access important social services in New York City. Juan Bernal says he and his family have more questions than answers.

SCRIPPS NEWS' AXEL TURCIOS: What has the process been like to enroll your child in school? What have you been told? 

JUAN BERNAL: Honestly, we haven’t been told anything. We don’t know anything, or where to go — no information. 

His family is from Colombia. They're just one of the many recently arrived asylum seekers who say they face great difficulty enrolling their children in New York City schools. 

According to a new survey that 766 asylum seekers took, 26% of parents surveyed said they have not been able to enroll all of their children in school. 

Liza Schwartzwald is the senior manager of Economic Justice and Family Empowerment for the New York Immigration Coalition. She says the city needs to work on a better communication plan with families. 

In New York City, every child has a right to a public-school education, regardless of immigration status.   

"The families may not be getting accurate information about what their rights are in the education system," said Schwartzwald.

Economic instability and moving from shelter to shelter end up creating confusion. 

"What that means for students though, is that they may not be getting the outreach and the enrollment supports that they actually need at the particular shelter they're at at the time that they're there," said Schwartzwald.

SEE MORE: NYC migrants seeking asylum have difficulties finding social services

But the barriers don’t stop there. Diana Rivera, a bilingual teacher at a New York City public school, says children are also facing setbacks in classrooms.

"In my grade in particular, I even had up to like 66 students that would come. In some grades, there's only one dual language classroom and so they were already capped up to 32 children. So the students that we kept receiving, they would have to go to a monolingual classroom — [an] English only classroom, and they didn't really receive the support that they needed in their native language," Rivera said. 

Melissa Aviles-Ramos, with the New York Chancellor's office, says the city's Department of Education is working on revamping its programs.

TURCIOS: Why are families still struggling to enroll their children in schools, and why is this happening? 

MELISSA AVILES-RAMOS: What I will say is that as emergency shelters were being opened up so quickly, we didn't always have enough people to go to every single shelter that was being opened. If we see that a school is receiving 15 or more students, particularly in a grade, and they need an additional teacher, then we work closely with our HR and budget people to get them both the money that they need to hire a teacher, as well as the program support to find the teachers. 

But some activists fear the New York City mayor’s proposed budget would eliminate programs that help migrant families navigate the public school system. 

"We are confident that we will continue to serve any student who comes to New York City Public Schools and get them what they need," Aviles-Ramos said. 

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