August 22, 2023

Commentary: Consider public schools when making plans for migrants

Author: Melinda Person, NYSUT President
press release migrant students

The following commentary by NYSUT President Melinda Person appeared in the Times Union Aug. 22, 2023.


Commentary: Consider public schools when making plans for migrants

We must not arbitrarily drop new families in communities ill equipped to support children’s learning and growth.

Melinda Person. Aug. 22, 2023.

With the start of each new school year, our educators and school staff rise to meet unexpected challenges, and 2023 is no different. This school year includes the prospect of welcoming hundreds of new students across the state from families who have sought asylum in New York.

This is nothing new for our educators, who want success for and plan to support each child who walks through the doors. Educators are accustomed to making rapid pivots every day to support their students' unique and fluctuating needs.

Already NYSUT members across the state have volunteered time, energy and expertise to help these families to start the school year as smoothly as possible. They are filling churches and community centers with donated clothes, toiletries and books. They are spending their free time translating the enrollment process so parents can feel secure sending their children off to a new school in an unfamiliar place.

The only way this humanitarian effort can be successful is through a thoughtful relocation strategy that includes conversations with local officials and school district leaders. The scope of this effort necessitates coordination on an immense scale; we should not arbitrarily drop hundreds of new families in communities that are ill equipped to support their children’s learning and growth.

Schools create a foundation for an entire family’s experience in a new city or town — often for generations to come —and should be given substantial consideration as state officials choose where to send asylum seekers.

Some of our schools have the capacity to serve an influx of new students, particularly those who speak multiple languages. They should be considered first. 

But some do not, or are located in communities that lack ample supports these students and their families need to thrive. The city, state and federal governments have designated millions of dollars for relocation efforts. This funding must be freed up and immediately accessible for districts in need. Additionally, our elected leaders must use the multiple avenues available to fund the English as a New Language teachers, school professionals and supplies that every receiving school will need for each new student to receive a quality public education.

Many of these relocations will occur with the school year in full swing, and in many cases there will not be time to adjust facilities, prepare staff or even finish administrative paperwork before students will be in the classrooms. Educators need as much notice as possible about new students, and they must be supported and trusted in their knowledge of what they are able to provide. 

Our public schools are extraordinarily adept at accepting new students and meeting the needs of new American families. With the necessary funding and resources, children of all backgrounds and entire communities can thrive. We've seen success stories already in many districts, especially those that have adopted the community school models, including wraparound services delivered at the school level.

Public schools remain among the few spaces where people unite across language, experience and birthplace. Our newest students can benefit from the opportunities public schools provide, and the power of these shared experiences will extend outward through entire communities.

Melinda Person is the President of New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), the nearly 700,000 member union representing people who work in, or are retired from, New York’s schools, colleges and health care facilities.