Back to School for Migrant Children Too

Children of Immigrants
Education
Racial Equity

Recently, the United States and other countries in the region have experienced an increase in the number of migrant children from Central America as a result of desperate situations in their home countries. Too many of these children have been deported back to those desperate situations, often without due legal process and with terrible consequences. Many children have also been temporarily placed with family members while they await their immigration proceedings, and these children recently started school with the rest of their peers. Being placed with family members and beginning to gain some permanency is certainly in the best interest of the children and it means schools will be an important resource for these children and their families.

In 1982 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that all children in this country are entitled to a free, appropriate education in Plyler v. Doe. The ruling warns that barring undocumented students from attending public school would “create and perpetuate” an underclass of uneducated individuals, to the detriment of the country as a whole. Indeed, it would be a disservice to the children and the country as a whole to deny migrant children education. The U.S. Department of Education reiterated this by circulating an overview of laws and guidance regarding educating migrant children. Furthermore, schools are in a unique position to offer additional stability and help the children deal with the effects of experiencing trauma.

Community schools are in a unique position to fill this support role. These schools partner with community service providers to ensure students have wraparound services such as school-based health clinics, mental health services, tutoring, and many others, are uniquely positioned to meet the demands of enrolling migrant children. In addition to these wraparound services, community schools have established relationships with service providers, making it easier to provide additional services to respond to emergencies, such as a significant increase in the enrollment of migrant children.

Similarly, some schools already adequately serve large populations of immigrant students and limited English proficient (LEP) students through English as a second language (ESL) classes and other support services such as tutoring, parental outreach and engagement, and other social supports. For example, schools in Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties, Maryland, and in Fairfax County, Virginia, have significant populations of LEP students and the necessary resources for these students to succeed. Additionally, Montgomery County developed pupil liaison positions and school-based peer support groups to assist migrant children. Community and other on-profit organizations have also contributed to ensuring migrant children are safe and healthy. For example, Northern Virginia Family Services Support engages children and their caregivers with social and mental health supports, such as mentoring caregivers for peer support, while the Lutheran Immigrant and Refugee Service released a flyer with background information and services available for children and their families.

The increase in migrant children is an opportunity for schools to provide additional support for these children and their families to contribute to their well-being. Many schools and communities are prepared thanks to past experience, while others are meeting the new challenge using proven strategies such as peer support networks and school counseling, among many others.