Back-to-school will be a surprise test for New York City’s teachers and principals — as the Department of Energy has only handed educators a brief memo telling them how to deal with the influx of migrants they’ve been dealing with at the start of the school year lessons will be faced on Thursday, the Post has learned.
The Department of Education said Wednesday that the country’s largest school district provided Big Apple’s educators with just a 415-word letter to guide them on the enrollment of about 21,000 migrant children. That’s 2,500 more than the number officials gave last week.
The two-page letter, titled “Guide to the Open Arms Project,” tells teachers that they are on their own to collect supplies for migrants and that it is their responsibility to find teachers who communicate with students can, most of whom say “no” English.
It doesn’t even tell local school principals how many migrants will show up on day one.
“Principals have been preparing their schools for weeks and months, and getting something two days in advance seems to be defaulting on the part of the DOE,” said Craig Slutzkin, a DOE parent who sits on the Community Education Council for District 2, of the seen has Last year there was a large influx of students with a migration background.
As Gov. Kathy Hochul warned Wednesday that migrants speak a variety of other languages in addition to Spanish, the letter offers no help in bridging the language gap. It simply states that school principals “designate a staff member at your school who can communicate”.
Individual schools were given just 10 days to count how many English learners they have, or double that time if students had special needs, the letter said.
It also alerts school staff that students may not have school supplies, but does not provide a specific way to obtain them.
Instead, teachers are being urged to consider using the allocated “funds to set up nursing cabinets or nursing packs to provide school supplies, clothing/shoes and hygiene/toiletries”.
The letter said the Department of Energy cannot give schools an idea of how many immigrant students a school will accept because it does not track immigration status and warns that the administration “should not turn students away”.
And if there are still problems, the DOE only offers bureaucracy and tells struggling schools: “Please fill out the application form for support of the Central Project Open Arms team.”
Staten Island Rep. Sam Pirozzolo said he wasn’t surprised that the DOE appeared to have little guidance for schools.
“How could the DOE be prepared? We have people flying in from the African continent. How can we prepare for the influx of languages?” the Republican told The Post.
“The influx of migrants seems to have turned into a total disaster. I expect the Department of Energy will try to catch up and the kids won’t learn.”
Queens Councilwoman Vickie Paladino, whose district includes PS 31, a Bayside elementary school that is expected to take on many immigrant students, said she anticipates difficulties.
“The first day of school is usually chaotic. But now, with the refugee crisis, it’s going to get bizarre,” the Queens Republican said.
Paladino said school principals have complained to local police officers that enrollment fluctuates because migrants are a transient population that come and go.
“A student can stay in one school for a week and then go somewhere else,” Paladino said.
The guidance came a day before Chancellor David Banks said 2,500 new students living in makeshift housing had enrolled in the city’s public schools since July.
A total of about 19,000 young residents are enrolled in city schools, and the vast majority of them are asylum seekers who have already attended the school for the past year, officials said.
Before DOE officials launched an enrollment drive at city shelters this week, education bosses said citywide only about 500 migrant students would be enrolled on the student roster.
The title of the letter, Project Open Arms, is the name of a partnership between the DOE and city welfare agencies that has provided money to support educational support for the new migrant student population.
The city hired 188 teachers licensed to teach English as a new language last year, along with another 175 new teachers who are bilingual, Education Chancellor David Banks said on Wednesday.
That meant the five counties had about 3,400 teachers licensed to teach English as a new language, as well as more than 1,700 teachers who spoke both Spanish and English, officials said.
“This year we will continue to welcome our students with open arms,” said School Chancellor David Banks, who pointed out that the school system has fired an estimated 120,000 students in the past five years.
“We look forward to filling these empty spots with new students and bringing new voices into our school communities.”
At PS 145 on Manhattan’s Upper West Side Wednesday afternoon, a teacher’s assistant who will be teaching the kindergarten this year said she is optimistic the department has enough resources to accommodate the new students.
“Children of asylum seekers are supported,” said Riya W., explaining that the bilingual program has many Spanish-speaking teachers this year.
“I’m looking forward to the school year, to seeing new kids and old kids alike,” said the teacher, who was decorating her classroom and declined to give her full last name.
Fabricio R. and his son, a new preschooler, were out of school drawing with chalk as part of a school tradition with other children.
“We’re just looking forward to getting to know the teacher, you know, because he has a new teacher, and getting to know his classmates. Yes, yes, he is actually taking part in the bilingual program in Spanish this year. And English, but they also have English and Russian,” said the proud pop.
All city students, including migrants, were required to receive the DTaP vaccine, which protects against diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough, as well as be vaccinated against measles, mumps, rubella, varicella and hepatitis B.
You must also be vaccinated against the polio virus. The city’s health commissioner, Ashwin Vasan, recently warned that about half of the nearly 60,000 migrants in the city’s care are unvaccinated.
Students are not required to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Additional reporting by Craig McCarthy