Oct 31, 2023 - News

D.C. public schools scramble amid migrant student influx

Photo illustration of a collage of a chalkboard, abstract scribbles and family holding hands.

Photo illustration: Allie Carl/Axios. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

D.C. Public Schools has hundreds of migrant students on its class rosters, but is struggling to provide the high-quality help the students need.

Why it matters: D.C. is among several school districts nationwide scrambling to meet the academic, physical health, and mental health needs of their new migrant students, our Axios colleagues report.

Zoom in: Approximately 400 students from recent migrant families are enrolled in PreK3 through 12th grade, DCPS spokesperson Kera Tyler tells Axios. DCPS has trained staff on being "culturally responsive" to its new students.

  • And the city has increased its budget for translation and interpretation services, according to Tyler.

Yes, but: D.C. says it faces challenges providing high-quality bilingual mental health services in particular due to staffing shortages.

Between the lines: Many migrants are entering new schools after surviving weeks or months traveling — sometimes across multiple national borders.

  • They likely have navigated a complicated border process, sterile government facilities, or non-profit shelters at the southern border.
  • Leaving your home "and being relocated to somewhere where you don't know anyone and don't have stable housing qualifies as early childhood trauma," says Shani Andre, chief medical officer at the NYC health care charity The Floating Hospital, which works with migrant students.

What they're saying: To encourage bilingual development, DCPS urges "all families to continue to speak in their native language and have books or other texts in their native language," Tyler tells Axios.

  • When it comes to English, "We work to help students and families understand that learning in a new language is a process that requires patience, hard work, and a willingness to take academic risks."

Be smart: All children in the U.S. are entitled to a public elementary and secondary education regardless of their citizenship or immigration status, the Education Department says.

By the numbers: Tens of thousands of migrants have been bused to the nation's capital. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott alone has sent at least 12,500 people.

  • 1,007 migrants were in D.C. hotels as of September, according to the District government.
  • Lodging, meals, and other aid have cost $55 million.

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