State education leaders say as classes resume next week, most school administrators remain in the dark about receiving students from asylum-seeking families and what they'll need to receive a public education mandated under state and federal law.
New guidance released by the state Eduation Department and attorney general's office this week reminds school districts of their obligation to follow federal statutes requiring all students ages 5 to 21 receive a free public education, regardless of immigration status, as thousands of migrant students prepare to enter New York classrooms.
"Right now, we don't have a really strong handle on numbers of students or where they might be going," said Robert Lowry, deputy director of the state Council of School Superintendents. "Not much is known at this point."
Lowry says superintendents trust the Education Department to communicate and assist districts, but not knowing how many asylum seekers will arrive, and when, makes preparations exceedingly difficult. Gov. Kathy Hochul met with the White House Chief of Staff Jeff Zients on Wednesday to discuss the migrant crisis.
Administrators at a few dozen public schools of the state's 700-plus districts say they know they will receive migrant students when school begins after Labor Day. About 5% of superintendents across the state are confident they'll have new asylum seekers, according to the state School Board Association's annual survey released Wednesday.
"There's not a large base of of districts out there that know that something's coming," Lowry said. "Certainly, there's concern about it, and a lot of that is just, you know, 'How many students might we be taking in?' I think those that know seem to be on top of it."
The state Council of School Superintendents has heard little from school administrators with questions or concerns about what migrant students need. Lowry said they're likely waiting for the first few weeks of classes to assess needed resources.
Some superintendents, he added, have voiced concerns about the transparency from New York City officials about the new students, including ages, languages spoken, vaccination records, learning disabilities or other educational needs.
"I think we are all collectively scrambling to try and figure out how to deal with this influx of children," Lowry said. "The more we know, the sooner we know it, the better we can prepare to accommodate these children."
But the education migrant students have access to, including English as a Second Language programs, will depend on where they're housed — or luck of the draw.
New York City is responsible for all expenditures to house migrants. School districts have been excluded from the conversation as the New York City Department of Education determines where migrant students will attend school.
Officials with NYSED and the attorney general's office declined requests to be interviewed about the new guidance, and did not respond to additional questions Wednesday.
The new state guidance stresses the need for schools to prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion in their educational decisions amid the increase of asylum seekers.
Schools have faced staffing issues since before the COVID-19 pandemic and demand is expected to grow for English as a Second Language (ESL) instructors. Districts may need to utilize regional ESL services throughout the year as additional asylum seekers arrive in the state.
Organizations like The Education Trust NY are relying on student welcome centers in the city and community-based organizations to give migrants clothes, food and other supplies.
"I just hope that we're thinking about really supporting families as they come in," Education Trust NY Executive Director Dia Bryant said Wednesday. "It's so hard to be new in a place with an unfamiliar language and unfamiliar faces, so I really hope that we're thinking deeply about that."
Education officials say it's too soon to specify what assistance should be included for migrant students in the next state budget, but Lowry said he'll discuss reviving defunct school aid formulas that could give more funding to districts based on student population growth.
The North Colonie Central School District in Albany County is preparing for about 40 new migrant students this fall. North Colonie Superintendent Kathleen Skeals says the diverse district has a large English as a Second Language program, and is prepared for the newcomers.
"We have been able to absorb the children and have all the resources that we need to be able to provide for them because we have been growing this department over the probably the last five years as as our demographics have changed," Skeals said.
North Colonie held an orientation for migrant students and their families to learn how the lunch line works, where to catch the bus, where backpacks and supplies go and more. But planning and reception will vary by district and the mission of administrators.
Skeals has spoken with city and county officials about the asylum seekers, and partnered with the local health department to ensure all new students are up-to-date on health screenings and required vaccinations.
State Congress of Parents and Teachers Executive Director Kyle Belakopitsky said parents have sporadically contacted state PTA with concerns about migrants this summer, but calls have been minimal.
"For school buildings and for children, we know and we want all communities to welcome those children into into our fold," Belakopitsky said. "That's what we do in public education."
City and state officials, she said, are exploring how to support migrant students and necessary academic programs, especially as the state pleads for more funding and guidance from the federal government.
"It takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to educate a child, and it's certainly going to take a village to solve this problem," Belakopitsky said. "Because every citizen and non-citizen and immigrant and asylum seeker and migrant deserves respect, and deserves to have those support that we can help to get them in the transition in their lives."