The New Kids: Overburdened district shoulders influx of unaccompanied minors

Posted: Jan 07, 2020 8:00 AM -05:00 Updated: Jan 07, 2020 8:00 AM -05:00

Wyandanch Union Free School District has had its share of challenges in the past several years.

Acting Superintendent Dr. Gina Talbert knows all too well that the district is one of the poorest in the state. The state comptroller says the district hasn't budgeted its money properly, and its taxpayers have voted against significant tax increases. The result is a shoestring budget that required the types of staffing cuts that would be problematic for any district.

But Wyandanch faces another stressor – an influx of hundreds of immigrant students who arrived in the United States as unaccompanied minors and ultimately settled there.

As News 12 first reported in 2015, Wyandanch is one of a handful of mostly poor school districts across Nassau and Suffolk that are shouldering an influx of unaccompanied minors to Long Island. In this case, the numbers continue to skyrocket. In 2014, the district says it had 171 students requiring bilingual education, many of whom arrived in the district mid-school year. This year, the district already has 334 bilingual learners.

While the federal government is responsible for the program that placed unaccompanied minors with sponsors here, there are no federal dollars attached to their arrival.

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) has repeatedly proposed bipartisan legislation that would require the federal government to provide funding for local school districts that receive students who arrived in the U.S. illegally, but it’s gone nowhere.

“It’s very hard to get cosponsors,” he told News 12. “The rest of Congress looks upon this as an issue that affects very few counties across the country.”

District officials say the student population has grown so much that its pre-K and kindergarten students are no longer taught in Wyandanch. Instead, the district leases classes at what used to be Forest Park School in Dix Hills. It is more than 6 miles away.

Principal Shamika Simpson says having an average student to teacher ratio at nearly 30 to 1 is “not ideal.”

However, Simpson and the staff at the schools say the new kids have added to the cultural fabric of the community and their eagerness to learn is inspiring.

“We are well-vested in the education of these scholars,” says Simpson. “We tell them all the time, they are going to be world-class leaders one day – no matter what country they emigrated from, no matter where their parents came from. We tell them that, they know that, we instill that.”

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