New York City Mayor Eric Adams unveiled a plan Friday for integrating potentially thousands of child asylum-seekers into the city’s public school system ahead of the start of the school year on Sept. 8, including additional bilingual enrollment sites and curriculum to meet the specific needs of the new students.
“Our city has been, and will always be, a city of immigrants that welcomes newcomers with open arms,” Adams said in a statement. “‘Project Open Arms’ ensures we are well-prepared to assist asylum-seekers as the school year begins and that we are offering wraparound services to students and families. With strong collaboration with our partners, both in and out of government, this plan highlights how we can lead with compassion and ‘Get Stuff Done’ for those who need it most.”
The eight-page plan lays out a strategy that involves partnering with non-profit organizations, shelter providers and leadership at individual schools to offer academic, transportation, social-emotional and legal support to the new population of children, who are mostly coming from Latin America and speak Spanish. Schools Chancellor David Banks said Friday approximately 1,000 children ages 3 and up who have come to New York City seeking asylum in recent months will enroll in the school system, NY1 reported. But the country’s largest school system certainly has space. Enrollment has declined drastically at city schools since the start of the pandemic by approximately 90,000 students to a total of 920,000, and many school budgets have been cut as a result. Last month, the Department of Education estimated 30,000 additional students would leave the school system by the fall, the Daily News reported.
The Department of Education’s Students in Temporary Housing division receives daily updates of new shelter placements and is deploying staff to meet with new families, according to the document. “While in some areas there is more staff than in others, individuals are being very flexible, and the team is not hearing of major gaps in service,” the plan states.
The document details which districts are already seeing enrollment increases from the 6,300-plus migrants who have traveled here since May. In District 2, which covers the Upper East Side and the majority of Lower Manhattan, “many hotels are opening daily and serving as shelters,” the plan states. The Department of Education has set up a table staffed by two bilingual employees at one of its Family Welcome Centers in the district to help enroll students in schools that have available seats and are in close vicinity of shelters. Staffers have been escorting families from the shelters to the Welcome Center, according to the document. When the “Asylum Seeker Navigation Center” opens, which is expected to happen in the coming weeks and will likely be housed in the same Midtown location as the 600-bed shelter the city will soon open, school enrollment will be offered on-site.
The plan promises the Department of Education’s office of Multilingual Learners will meet with all superintendents by Aug. 26 to provide instruction on integrating families. “Each school should have at least one Language Access Coordinator” to provide translation services, according to the “Families Seeking Asylum: Comprehensive Support Plan” titled “Open Arms.” Individual schools have access to Title 1 funds through the office of Students in Temporary Housing that can be used to support asylum-seekers. Schools that take in additional students can also apply for additional money from the city’s spending plan through the budget appeals process.
The mayor’s office has asked superintendents, in partnership with Department of Education leadership, to develop new curriculum, activities and after-school programming that is culturally sensitive and linguistically appropriate for the new population of students. Teachers will be offered additional language learning opportunities, and schools will be required to assess students for baseline proficiency in language, literacy and math.
Students will be placed in the appropriate grade level based on age and available academic records, the plan states. Schools are required to conduct social-emotional screening and closely observe the new students for signs of academic and personal struggles. Schools are also encouraged to hold weekly staff meetings to discuss the students’ progress.
To aid families coping with immigration legal issues, the nonprofit Comprehensive Youth Development is also running a legal information clinic out of the Manhattan Comprehensive Night and Day High School, the document states. The Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs is tasked with setting up additional legal clinics in schools.
Adams has repeatedly expressed confidence in the city’s ability to handle the crisis, striking a very different tone from immigrant advocates who have raised alarms about how the city has managed the influx. “And I want to say to your listeners and to everyone who hears the information, there has not been one day since I've been the mayor of this city that I've felt overwhelmed or out stressed because of this crisis. I'm ready for this moment and I'm ready for this job,” Adams said in a Friday interview with Caribbean Power Jam Radio. Nonprofit organizations from the Legal Aid Society to Catholic Charities, however, have expressed concerns in recent weeks about repeated violations of the city’s right-to-shelter laws, families being separated into different shelters by the Department of Social Services, and the inability of hotel shelters to meet basic needs of families with children, such as access to kitchens, as well as the social services provided at traditional shelters. The Department Investigation is also probing the city’s Department of Social Services for allegedly attempting to cover-up the shelter violations, something Adams downplayed in the Friday interview. “Out of the 6,000, five people stayed longer than the number of hours. Not days, just a number of hours,” he said. “And they turned that into some form of conspiracy. I mean, when you think about it, you have to say to yourself, as children would say, are you kidding me?”
Editor’s note: This article has been updated with the estimated number of children seeking asylum who are expected to enroll in the New York City public school system.